Slip Sliding Away

A Shodeen development of 120 homes is planned for the south end of Walworth Township.
It is likely the ultimate plan includes future development of adjacent lands, bringing the likely total number of homes to be built to somewhere between 200-300 (or duplexes, condominiums, etc.). The developers have promised that this will be a “conservation community”. The word “conservation” is a zoning term that implies high density with some paths of grass, but mostly it’s a marketing label that developers use to pacify township boards.

If conservation is the goal, then the developer might plant native prairie on the entire parcel and turn it over to the municipality for use as a park. But conservation is almost never the goal, it’s just a buzzword that developers use to placate the citizens who live in the in rural areas. It’s a word that usually describes a development with ugly clusters of high density, intermixed with some open lands that the developer wasn’t going to be allowed to use anyway. Shodeen currently has 640 planned units in Delavan Township. Hundreds more on the south end of Walworth, in Walworth Township, and thousands in the lush fields south of Lake Geneva in the Big Foot Prairie.

There’s also a new 30 Townhome development overlooking the post office in Fontana. Shodeen suggests the area needs even more development, simply because growth is good. Apparently the rich agricultural fields of Walworth Township are where the Shodeen people think subdivision after subdivision should be built, so as to make them indistinguishable from their Illinois developments. There’s some odd adherence to a belief that America needs a continuous increase in housing. However, given the number of poorly financed and mismanaged developments the countryside has become littered with, that belief should be challenged. There are many platted lots set aside in the Wisconsin country subdivisions that developers dreamed up, petitioned for, aggressively built, and marketed for sale. “These subdivisions were sorely needed”, the developers said. The demand was shown to be palpable, they told us.

Consider the following:

  • Woodstone; 42 “conservation” lots in Linn. Only 10 homes built in the last 10 years. 76% of the lots are vacant.
  • Meadowview; 35 “conservation” lots in Linn. Only 3 homes built. 91% of the lots vacant.
  • Bailey Estates; 190 platted lots within walking distance of Williams Bay. 28 built homes in almost 10 years. 85% of the lots vacant.
  • Whitetail Ridge; 25 “conservation” lots in Walworth. 9 homes built in almost 10 years. 64% of the lots vacant.
  • Cliffs of Fontana; 66 lots in Fontana, walking distance to the lake. 14 built in almost 10 years. 79% of the lots vacant.
  • Walworth Prairie; 69 lots in Walworth, walking distance to school and downtown. 4 constructed properties, including sales center. 94% of the lots vacant.
  • Townhall Road. Previously town of Walworth, annexed to Fontana. Sitting vacant, unbuilt, undeveloped, waiting to flood the market with more inventory. 100% of the lots vacant.
  • Darien Ponds 61 platted lots in Darien, walking distance to town. 9 built homes. 85% of the lots vacant.
  • Prairie View 98 platted lots, walking distance to Williams Bay. 43 built in nearly 10 years. 56% of the lots vacant.

Over-development is an epidemic in the countryside of Southern Wisconsin. And it’s an epidemic supported by local planning commissions which have been siding with property developers, rather than the constituents that they were elected to serve. The phrase “if you build it they will come,” came from a fictional baseball movie, not real estate reality. Basic market studies show that there are currently more than 771 vacant Walworth County lots listed in the MLS. There are many more listed for sale by owner. How many does the MLS reveal as sold last year? 154. That means that there is at least eight years of market inventory now, not counting the approved developments that have not yet been started (likely around two thousand or more vacant parcels that are coming soon).

So why are developers still coming, and still singing the song about necessary country development? They get paid anyway. The developers raise money by convincing people with money (as in hedge funds and Real Estate Investment Trusts) to invest. The developer starts the project, and receives the bulk of the invested funds. The development fails. The developer makes a huge profit, and the losses are passed on to the investors. And that’s what’s going on all around every small town in Southern Wisconsin right now. It’s not the fault of Chicago developers that they don’t care about the local market. It’s their job to profit.

It’s much more the fault of uneducated commissions and councils that this kind of development continues to go on.

Take Rowhomes of Fontana, marketed aggressively since April (with a full time sales center) all summer and fall, during a banner year for the Lake Geneva vacation home market with bonuses promised; neat models built; and fancy brochures distributed. Total Rowhomes sold so far?
Development of real estate is part of the advancing civilization but the kind of development allows must be carefully adjudicated and controlled.

Your comments always appreciated

Green Arrow

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