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Southland seeing resurgence in homebuilding

Existing housing developments are filling up Lincolnway aresuch as HiberniEstates New Lenox where crews work one house foundatihas been poured

Existing housing developments are filling up in the Lincolnway area, such as Hibernia Estates in New Lenox, where crews work on one house and a foundation has been poured for another. | Susan DeMar Lafferty/Sun-Times Media

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Updated: September 2, 2014 6:02AM



With home construction season in full swing, there are indications throughout the Southland that the long-anticipated rebound in building is for real.

Housing starts are on the rise after the recession brought new-home construction to a virtual standstill, and housing projects that had stalled are coming back to life and nearing completion, local officials say.

Mokena is experiencing a “recovery and resurgence” with rising housing starts, Alan Zordan, the village’s community development director, said.

And for the first time since before the recession began, new subdivisions are being approved, including the 38-lot Ginger Creek on Townline Road.

“The time is ripe for new development,” he said.

Brian Flaherty, a co-owner of Flaherty Builders, said the market is “better than it’s been in a long time,” and that the company is seeing “very strong demand” at its developments in Frankfort, New Lenox and Orland Park. It’s getting ready to start a second phase of a high-end housing development, Deer Haven, in Orland.

Mokena has seen a steady rise in permits for new homes, with 108 issued last year compared with 71 in 2012 and 41 in 2011.

New Lenox, too, has watched numbers of permits skyrocket. Just 20 permits total were handed out during all of 2009 and 2010, while 172 were issued last year, putting New Lenox near the top of new-home construction activity in the Chicago area, according to Robin Ellis, the village’s community development director.

“We are confident that we are on the way back,” Ellis said.

That sentiment is echoed in Frankfort where, in 2009, as the full effects of the recession were stifling home sales and construction, just 19 permits were issued. That jumped to 97 last year.

It’s a far cry from the peak of the housing boom, however. In 2005, Frankfort issued 383 permits, a number that development services director Jeff Cook called “pretty crazy.”

Local officials think it’s unlikely there will be a return to the types of numbers seen during the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Zordan noted that some 300 permits were snapped up by builders in Mokena when builders couldn’t put up homes fast enough to satisfy demand, although that level of activity put a strain on village services and schools.

“I’m not sure we should go back to 300 homes per year. We shouldn’t grow that fast again,” Zordan said.

Still, the steady rebound after years of anemic building activity is encouraging, officials said.

In Orland Park, smaller subdivisions are filling out, and “that’s a good sign,” Karie Friling, the village’s development services director, said.

The developments themselves might not be huge as far as the numbers of lots, but there’s nothing small about the sizes of the homes, with building permits for custom-built homes of 4,000 and even 5,000 square feet common in recent years, she said.

Demand for large, move-up properties in developments such as Sterling Ridge, west of 108th Avenue and south of 167th Street, and Flaherty’s Deer Haven, south of 143rd Street east of Wolf Road, has been surprisingly strong.

Flaherty said he sees it as an indication that the housing market overall has rebounded after the recession, as buyers for his company’s homes are having an easier time selling their existing homes.

Previously, when home values were steadily shooting higher, he said it was not uncommon for buyers of move-up properties to hold mortgages on two homes, figuring the one they were leaving would sell quickly. That’s no longer the case, with move-up buyers ensuring they have a sale for the home they are vacating lined up before relocating.

With a handful of lots remaining in the initial phase of its Deer Haven development, where homes start at a bit north of $700,000, Flaherty’s firm is preparing to start infrastructure work on a 17-lot second phase, based on strong demand it’s seeing. Lots in that phase, to the south of the current development, could be ready for homes by this fall, he said.

While construction of single-family detached homes is seeing a resurgence, both Mokena and New Lenox are looking at projects offering other types of housing.

Mokena has begun to issue permits for a three-story senior housing complex at 21536 Wolf Road, south of the new Meijer store, Zordan said. It will provide 60 independent living, 56 assisted living and 40 memory care dwelling units.

The New Lenox plan commission recently recommended approval of the planned Lincoln Station — four six-story apartment buildings with a total of 312 one- and two-bedroom units adjacent to Metra’s Rock Island Line near U.S. 30 and Prairie Street.



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