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posted: 7/17/2014 5:01 AM

Editorial: Keep an open mind about building changes

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  • Riverside Plaza development in Algonquin was one of several throughout the suburbs that had to adapt to changing market conditions in order to survive.

      Riverside Plaza development in Algonquin was one of several throughout the suburbs that had to adapt to changing market conditions in order to survive.
    Rick West | Staff Photographer

The Daily Herald Editorial Board

It is heartening to see roadside homebuilder signs popping up along suburban roadways. It's been six years since the mortgage bubble burst and many homebuilders pulled up stakes or went into hibernation. Or worse, extinction.

Home construction is on the upswing, and today the market consists of more than short sales and foreclosures in need of some TLC.

But the market is different now, and home building projects that were either stopped in their tracks or had not yet started when the market went belly up are taking on new looks.

And in some places, that's cause for consternation -- or at least concern.

In Wheaton this week, the city council discussed a developer's plans to revert to something resembling the original plan for housing at the old courthouse downtown.

The project, which called for 46 townhouses and 206 luxury condos in three buildings, was approved a decade ago. But only one building was ever built.

In 2012, the developer asked to change the project to include senior housing instead of the two remaining condo buildings. And this so angered the people who'd already bought condos there that they sued.

After a court decree, the plan is now to build regular apartments instead of senior housing.

In Algonquin, Riverside Plaza was to be the centerpiece of the downtown at routes 31 and 62. But with the shell mostly built the development fell into receivership. And what was envisioned to be pricey condominiums is a thing of the past. The developer who picked up the project told the village the market had changed and he could get a loan only to finish off the project as apartments.

After some hand-wringing, village trustees agreed that apartments there were better than nothing.

Change doesn't always go in one direction.

In 2006, a developer had plans to build 87 townhouses on a strip of land in Bartlett near Villa Olivia. The housing crash halted that. But a new developer hopes to build 43 single-family houses there instead.

It shouldn't be a surprise that in the course of a decade -- especially one dominated by such a devastating recession -- that the kinds of projects being pitched by developers are going to change. All-out construction of McMansions is not what drives developers anymore.

Nor is it just affordability that's driving change but niche uses. We're seeing, for example, a proliferation of Alzheimer's care facilities popping up in the suburbs. Boomers are 10 years older now, after all. So if the project in town that was interrupted by the housing bubble seems to be taking on a different cast, it's best to keep an open mind about what that developer -- or a new developer -- hopes to do with it. Issues of taste, needs and affordability will always change with time.

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