Developer plans to preserve Sonny Acres tradition, build townhouses
As a wise matriarch, Ramona Feltes had enough sense to know a place as rural and uncorrupted as her family's Sonny Acres Farm eventually would become a piece of the past.
But she may have underestimated how long Sonny Acres would endure as a suburban icon after her death in 2016.
After her children put the 22-acre property up for sale, Sonny Acres regulars made a point in October to revisit the North Avenue landmark near West Chicago for what they feared would be one last sweet corn and haunted hay ride through the oak trees, the perfect cover for an entourage of masked characters and creepy noises that suddenly appeared out of nowhere.
Sonny Acres is currently closed, but a prospective developer plans to preserve the fall tradition and the operation of the existing site, a collection of red barns and other structures that have held all kinds of novelties for decades.
The developer has provided West Chicago officials with an "extremely preliminary" conceptual plan showing new townhouses flanking either side of Sonny Acres on vacant land to the west and east, said Pete Kelly, the city's economic development coordinator.
The developer would seek to annex the unincorporated property into West Chicago to connect to the city's water and sewer systems.
That initial plan puts 27 townhouses on the west end of the property closest to Timberline Drive and 22 units on the east end closest to Klein Road.
The housing primarily would be geared to seniors and empty nesters, Kelly said.
Such a project would ultimately require city council approval.
Kelly said it's his understanding the sale of the property could be finalized Friday. A RE/MAX office has listed the price at $5 million. The broker did not immediately return phone and email messages Thursday. Members of the Feltes family also could not be reached.
It's unclear who would continue running the four-season operation of Sonny Acres for the new owner.
"At this point, the discussions with the city have been fairly rudimentary," Kelly said.
A sign along North Avenue states that Sonny Acres will reopen soon under "new management."
A recorded phone message for Sonny Acres also says the farm will reopen when "fresh produce is available."
If a new owner does indeed leave Sonny Acres untouched, Feltes may have made the wrong prediction about the future of her beloved farm. In 2003, at age 85, she was convinced the remaining family members would sell the property when she died. She lived another 13 years.
"I would love to know that this place will be around forever, but it's an expensive place to run and own," she said at the time.
"I'm sure it won't always be Sonny Acres, but what are you going to do?"
Originally Oakwood Farm, Sonny Acres has stayed in her family since the late 1880s, when Feltes' grandparents, Ferdinand and Anna Nagel, bought 100 acres.
In 1952, after Feltes' husband, Victor, returned home from World War II, the couple put a small table along North Avenue and started selling sweet corn, tomatoes and peppers.
Over the next few years, they expanded their offerings and named their roadside market Sonny Acres, spelled with an "O" rather than a "U" as a nod to their sons -- they would raise eight boys and one daughter.
That roadside market grew into a Halloween destination that would support her children's education and give generations of families memorable outings at the pumpkin patch and the "sale barn," a kind of general store with gingham curtains, apple cider doughnuts, bushels of apples and Amish jams.
During last year's fall festival, Feltes' sixth son, Tom, the longtime Sonny Acres manager, said the "highest, best possible use" of the property is its historic one.
"I couldn't imagine the kids would come up on Halloween ... and there's a closed sign here," Feltes said then. "Oh, that would be really sad."