A look to the future

By on August 1, 2014

In the final installment of its three-part series, the Elburn Herald takes a look at the projects set to define the future of Sugar Grove

Big-dollar infrastructure projects are the basis of the future Village President Sean Michels envisions for Sugar Grove, which he hopes will become a destination community rather than a commuter community.

The list of projects is ambitious—a full I-88 interchange at Route 47, a new data center, fiber optic cables, expansion of the park district’s facilities, new police and fire stations, and even a potential Metra station—and all are aimed at making Sugar Grove a more attractive place for businesses and residents alike.

“Hopefully, we’d see the expansion of our business park so that Sugar Grove is more of a destination community as opposed to a commuter community,” Michels said. “Just bringing in opportunities for employment, that’s really where we think the interchange will be critical, because it opens up a vast amount of property that is ideal for development, basically Route 47 east to Bliss Road. The fact that we’d have ramps in both directions, and we have a good community college that provides a good workforce, and we have the water and sewer capacity … the big result is that you have people working close to home, and it also diversifies your tax base so that residents don’t have to shoulder it all.”

Sugar Grove is seeking to capitalize on its location, Village Administrator Brent Eichelberger said, which is one of the best in the far-western suburbs.

“I think the thing about Sugar Grove that is the same whether (the economy) is booming or not booming is our location. It gets back to location, location, location,” Village Administrator Brent Eichelberger said. “While we certainly don’t have a Metra station (yet) and that’s a long way off, our access to I-88 is great. That’s one of the things our existing residents love about it, the access that Sugar Grove has. As soon as you get a little bit to the north or south, you start adding 15, 20 minutes before you can even get to the tollway.”

Within five years, Michels expects to see the completion of a full I-88 interchange at Route 47. Financing is already in place, he said, but the Illinois Department of Transportation has to sign off on the engineering agreement before construction can start. Phase I engineering should be done in two years or less, Michels said.

“We anticipate it will promote a variety of different developments, both residential and commercial, on the north side,” Michels said.

The interchange will cost between $20 million and $32 million to build. Sugar Grove and Kane County will contribute $3 million of that money—how to split that amount is still under discussion—and the remainder will come from the tollway and the state.

“There’s not a firm date (for completion) right now, but a reasonable time table will be around 2018,” Eichelberger said. “Obviously, we hope it moves as quick as it can, but I think that’s a fair target. It could be 2017, or if there are unforeseen circumstances, 2019.”

Michels foresees the interchange bringing more retail development and growth to Sugar Grove, and the village is working to put infrastructure in place to make it attractive to businesses, including a potential new data center and fiber optic cable line to provide high-speed Internet capacity.

A fiber optic line already goes to Harter Middle School and the Sugar Grove Public Library, and the village is working with both to extend that cable to the village hall and elementary school.

“We’re hoping to get a sizeable grant to bring that in next year, and we hope (the fiber optic cables) will bring in more businesses,” Michels said.

Fiber optics would allow businesses to move large quantities of data, Michels said. As an example, it would allow medical facilities like the new Cadence Health to send CAT scans and MRIs for remote viewing by specialists at other facilities, he said. Having that capacity is important for attracting businesses to the area.

“We hope to get a data center up by I-88, and we have redundant sources of power, so we’d have very high voltage electric,” Michels said.

Within 15 to 20 years, Police Chief Pat Rollins expects that a new Police Department building will be constructed—something that has been long delayed. Land at the northwest corner of Route 30 and Municipal Drive, across from the Fire Department, was purchased before the recession and architectural drawings created, but the plan stalled when the economy did.

Though the village is moving its administrative and finance departments to 140 S. Municipal Drive this fall to give the Police Department room to expand, that fix is temporary, Rollins said.

“Eventually, when there’s the opportunity in the village, we’ll look at the architectural drawings and see what can be done,” Rollins said.

Other village services plan future expansions, as well.

The village’s transportation plan, provided by Director of Public Works Anthony Speciale, suggests that two to four more fire stations should be built. Land for a second fire station has already been purchased by the village—a 2.5 acre plot at 650 Denny Road—but construction was put on hold by the recession. A third station would potentially be located in the southeast section of Sugar Grove.

New Sugar Grove Park District facilities are already in the works. The Park District received a $400,000 grant last year to transform open space near Harter Middle School into a community park with sports fields and a playground, and it’s also in the process of acquiring more land, including a parcel near the Aurora Airport and another on Wheeler Road in Aurora, which Sugar Grove would have to annex.

“We’re taking small strides, but we’re always trying to improve our bike trails and pedestrian trails for people. In our community surveys, that’s always an important goal of our residents, to have places to get outside. It’s a way for people to escape and put their troubles behind,” Michels said.

Within 20 years, Michels hopes to see the extension of the Burlington Northern rail line from Aurora to Sugar Grove. The village has already identified a 20-acre parcel along the Burlington Northern railway, west of the proposed Municipal Drive extension, as the ideal location for a station.

It’s an ambitious goal, and whether the line will ultimately be extended to Sugar Grove is uncertain. The project is still in the discussion phase, Michels said, and Kendall County is also lobbying the Regional Transportation Authority to have the line extended there.

“Financing, the big things, still have to take place,” Michels said. “They would have to add a third rail through downtown Aurora, and they’d have to send a second rail west. There’s a spur by the Fox Valley Park District office. We’ve been talking to our Metra rep and our RTA rep to promote this. The complicating factor is that Kendall County wants to have Metra expanded there, primarily into Oswego and Yorkville, but they aren’t part of the RTA tax.”

Many of these projects are fueled by—and hinge on—official projections that Sugar Grove’s population is going to explode. Projections from the Northern Illinois Planning Commission predict that Sugar Grove’s population will increase to 62,742 people by 2030, a nearly 600 percent increase in just 16 years.

Yet Eichelberger said he believes the pace of growth will be more moderate than that.

“We did long-term population projections, and at one point in time, there was a projection of 60,000 residents ultimately,” he said. “It really gets back into a question of time frame. If we want to talk 50 years, 100 years, those numbers seem arguably realistic. If you just look at land area and assume a kind of typical development plan, yeah, people start talking about populations of 40, 50, 60,000 or more. But in the next five to 10 years? Certainly not that. In our last census (in 2010), we were right around 9,000 people, and in 2014 those numbers haven’t changed much at all. By 2020, if we have 50 homes a year, you’re only talking another 750 people. It wouldn’t be crazy to say 1,500 people if housing starts to pick up a little.”

Four housing developments in Sugar Grove stalled following the 2008 collapse of the housing market, and building is just starting to resume, Eichelberger said. The village issued permits for 25 new homes in 2013 and projects “about the same” for 2014.

One of the stalled subdivisions, Prairie Glen, was purchased by Orleans Homes last year and has resumed building. Another, Hannaford Farms, was just recently purchased from the bank by a new developer and should resume building soon. Meadow Ridge Villas, an age-restricted housing development for those 55 years of age and older, will put up models this fall.

But the biggest of the developments, Settler’s Ridge, has been purchased from the original developer by a bond company that hasn’t completed the required public improvements. The village has been tied up in a lawsuit for three years with the bond company.

Eichelberger said that though the village is confident it will win the suit, it doesn’t expect the suit to be resolved until 2016—and then the public improvements will have to be finished before construction can resume.

“So much of it really depends on the overall economy and what that does to the housing market,” Eichelberger said. “We’re going to see some of the growth, but it’s a bigger question of how much. Maybe 200, 300 permits (for new houses) a year over time.”

The Village Board isn’t rushing development, Eichelberger said.

“The board has really held to their standards of what they wanted, residential and commercial,” Eichelberger said. “They aren’t going to do something just to get the growth.”