The eco-friendly approach

Daily Herald Homes Writer

Two developments take special steps to protect natural areas and reduce impact on the environment.

Though it’s a half-mile away, the existence of Boone Creek Fen is critically linked to the Sanctuary of Bull Valley, a new Woodstock housing development. That’s because surface water in the new development percolates into the ground water that eventually reaches the fen, a special type of wetland. People who buy homes at the Sanctuary must follow strict rules designed to protect that ground water, said developer Jack Porter. In fact, he expects people will only buy here if they are interested in taking care of the land.

Another example of this approach is Lake NapaSuwe Estates being built on a peninsula of Lake NapaSuwe in Lake County near Wauconda. Developers are learning they can protect attractive natural areas and keep neighbors happy, while creating expensive home sites and still make profits.

Bull Valley has rolling hills and farms in and around the McHenry County village of the same name east of Woodstock— but it’s not good farmland, Porter said. The terrain is a gift from the Wisconsin ice sheet or glacier 10,000 years ago, said John Nelson, Northeastern Illinois threats coordinator for the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission. The Boone Creek Fen Natural Area, like all fens, is a peat marsh with concentrations of calcium and magnesium. A fen is fed by alkaline water, according to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, and its vegetation is calcium-loving plants. “If this groundwater resource was to be reduced in volume or polluted, it could spell disaster for the fen,” said Nelson, who is based in McHenry.

The nearby Sanctuary’s terrain is a kettle-moraine area. Here and there visitors see 19 shallow depressions or kettles, the largest about 200-by-500 feet with sides that slope about 35 feet. These were formed when large chunks of ice broke off the glacier, Nelson said. A kettle is lined with gravel and sand under the grasses that grow in it, Porter said. Because of the topography, the water does not drain off the Sanctuary site, Nelson said. Rather it percolates into the soil and eventually some of it ends up in the fen.

The design and rules of the Sanctuary, where infrastructure is being developed and home sales have just started, are expected to protect the quality of the ground water. “Conventional development designs treat storm water runoff as a problem,” Nelson said. While the storm water is discharged off-site according to strict release rates, the water quality is degraded, and the water is not allowed to infiltrate back into the soil. “At the Sanctuary, storm water is being treated as an important natural resource to recharge the shallow ground water that helps sustain the Boone Creek Fen,” Nelson said. Basins and swales of native vegetation help strain the water, Porter said. Parts of the private lots and common community spaces are designated open space, and homeowners will keep these natural. Nothing can be built on the open spaces. The areas are not graded and are only supposed to have native plants. Porter is having some areas of the community—which was once a bull farm—replanted with grasses and wildflowers.

Even the types of fertilizers and pesticides homeowners and the community association can use are regulated. De-icing salts for walkways and driveways are discouraged. Impervious surfaces—houses and paving —will be limited to 15 percent of the site, so homeowners will be encouraged to use porous surfaces, such as brick, for their patios. Although grassy lawns are allowed around homes, “We will encourage people to go into more naturalistic landscaping,” Porter said. Another environmental advantage to the community is that it has sewer and water provided by the village of Woodstock so it does not use septic systems, Porter said. Not using the land for agriculture also is a benefit.

The Sanctuary is 300 acres adjacent to Bull Valley Golf Club. The first phase will have 105 homes on 200 acres with lots three-quarters of an acre to 3 acres. Prices will range from $108,000 to $385,000. Homes will be priced from $600,000, including lot. One hundred acres will remain preserve —both in common spaces and on private lots. There also are architectural restrictions on the homes that will be built, as well as designated areas on each lot where the house should be situated.

Lake NapaSuwe Estates, near Wauconda, has a communal septic system instead of individual systems for each of the 13 homes. This puts the system away from the lake and helps to protect the water quality,said Art Olson, president of Lake NapaSuwe Estates LLC. “We don’t use the lake for detention,” Olson said. “There are ponds and a filtration basin. These are important parts of creating a conservation community.” Besides the lake, Olson is trying to protect wetlands and mature woodlands on the property. Olson said he could have built as many as 60 to 70 homes on the peninsula. Under his plan, lots average 15,800 square feet, and all are on the lake front. The prices are $300,000 and $350,000. Home sites are on the crest of a hill and only one side of the road to take advantage of the views. The community’s sewage treatment system is similar to ones used for individual homes in unincorporated Lake County. The location of the system away from the lake makes it safer for the water than if each home had a septic field in its back yard, said Tony Smithson, coordinator of the on-site waste water program for the Lake County Health Department. Bonnie Thomson Carter of Ingleside, who represents District 5 on the Lake County Board, said she and area residents were concerned about the septic system, but were convinced it was a good idea by Olson and the health department. “They convinced us that the community system was being much more environmentally protective than individual ones would be,” Carter said. “He (Olson) could have done a greater density and made more money,” said Carter, who also is president of the Lake County Forest Preserve. “He chose to work with residents and address as much as possible our concerns considering he was developing on there. “We were concerned that the land would be annexed to the village (Wauconda),” Carter said. “And we were sure it would have been townhouses.”

©2003 Daily Herald, Paddock Publications, Inc.