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The first homes in Neucort Lakes began popping up on Daisy Ave in 2002, with the first residents moving in during the spring and summer of 2003. The 235-home neighborhood was developed by Neumann Homes during a period of intense competition between dozens of developers vying for rights to turn Cortland farmland into brand new homes in the $200k range.
Demand among developers was so high that the town projected a population increase to about 15,000 people (from 2,000) by 2015. By 2006, the town had established a plan to align itself around a new downtown area centered around Somonauk Road and Pleasant Street/Cortland Center Road (Neucort Lakes is at the bottom-right corner of the concept drawing below).
Of course, the town lacked the necessary infrastructure to accommodate all of this growth. The corn fields that were turned into neighborhoods had no streets, sewers, water lines, electrical lines, etc., and the town did not have the capability to deal with the additional sewage. The town’s sewage was pumped to DeKalb through a single pipe that was already maxed out.
Sewage and SSA
In 2002, the town began working on ways to finance the construction of our own sewage treatment facility. A deal was struck with Eagle Homes, developers of the Heatherfield neighborhood (finished in 2002) and Nature’s Crossing (planned at the time) to provide $1M towards the construction of the facility. The town also entered into an agreement with Sheaffer International to build and run the sewage treatment facility at a cost of $600K for 20 years, at which point the town could purchase the facility for fair market value.
Shortly after these agreements were made, Mayor Bob Seyller (“Mayor Bob”) ditched these agreements, instead forcing developers to finance the sewage treatment plant using a concept unique to the state of Illinois called the Special Assessment Area. Under this mechanism, bonds are paid out to finance infrastructure projects, financed by yearly payments through the county’s property tax system. This had the advantage of potentially saving the town money, since they would not be renting the facility from Sheaffer, but it had other consequences (among them, a $1.7M judgement against the town for Eagle Homes in 2014).
|Property/Unit Type||Average Price||Units|
|Age Restricted Detached Home||$265,000||100|
The SSA tax has the effect of hiding the true cost to build and own a new home. When new homes are built, the cost of infrastructure is usually covered by the builder who passes it to the customers when they purchase their home. The SSA allows builders to sell homes for artificially low prices. As was common practice during this time period, many of the home buyers over-extended themselves in order to purchase homes in Neucort Lakes. On top of that, the $1,695 (in 2014) SSA tax added to each homeowner’s yearly property tax bill has helped push many residents over the edge.
The SSA had the effect of making some of these developments toxic, increasing foreclosure rates among homes already sold and making it difficult for developers to sell homes. All of the homes in Neucort Lakes were built (by 2007) before the housing crisis began, but many of Cortland’s other SSA-financed developments had not been completed. Having already built the neighborhoods with SSA, many of these developers began paying them off when customers agreed to purchase one of their homes (you will see the blank spots in some of the neighborhoods in the map below).
In November, 2007, Neumann Homes filed for bankruptcy. Ken Neumann had made some investments in Detroit that didn’t pan out. Luckily for Neucort Lakes residents (and unlike many of Neumann’s developments at the time), Neucort Lakes was basically complete. The back half of the neighborhood was missing a top layer of asphalt, the jogging path had not been laid, and the homeowners association had not been turned over to the residents.
One year after the bankruptcy, the town had completed some elements of the neighborhood (namely, the top layer of pavement in the eastern half of the neighborhood) and the association was turned over to the residents.
Townsend Management was contracted to manage the HOA and began enforcing rules and collecting fees after the HOA had been essentially defunct for about a year. Rates were raised from $40/quarter to $55 due to the number of residents not paying dues (many because they had abandoned their homes, others because the HOA had basically disappeared). Around the same time, the park on the west side of the neighborhood was renamed Suppland Park.
Ken Neumann, largely insulated from the collapse of his company, has since returned to building homes, focusing on upscale homes under his new company Greenscape Homes.
New Elementary School
As the town grew, the need for a new and larger elementary school became apparent. Much of Cortland (including Neucort Lakes) sends its high schoolers to DeKalb high school (District 428). During 2007-2008, District 428 sought to build a new high school via referendum. In order to secure the town’s support on the matter, the district included a new elementary school in the referendum.
The referendum passed and the school was built on land provided by Montalbano Homes in the Chestnut Grove neighborhood. There is no public record that the Cortland town board considered any ramifications of siting the new elementary school across the interstate from the Waste Management landfill, despite the fact that at least some of them were aware of a plan to massively expand the landfill and the mayor had already been negotiating for a payout from Waste Management.
Anthony Montalbano declared bankruptcy in September 2009, having completed 35 of 194 homes in the Chestnut Grove development.
Waste Management runs a landfill immediately south of Cortland, adjacent to I-88. This landfill had accepted 300 tons of trash daily from local sources. In 2005, Waste Management began negotiating with DeKalb County in order to expand the landfil to accept 1800 tons of trash daily from all over Northern Illinois.
In January, 2014 (prior to the expansion), the landfill released odorous gasses that were blown in the direction of the elementary school. This did not set off any of the alarms that had been installed to detect dangerous chemicals, but it created mass panic and led to dozens of students, teachers, and parents being treated at local hospitals. Waste Management paid for those hospital bills, checked existing monitoring equipment, and installed new equipment. Investigations into the incident showed no indication that anyone was exposed to anything dangerous.
Despite the town residents’ efforts to prevent the expansion (the “megadump”), the expansion has begun. The DeKalb County board reportedly sidelined Cortland in the entire process. The Cortland town board and the mayor were essentially powerless to stop the expansion and put up little resistance. The mayor at the time (Mayor Bob), believing the expansion could not be stopped, instead negotiated with Waste Management for a $1M payout in exchange for the towns support.
That payout has been used to pay down the $1.7M Cortland owes Eagle Homes from their lawsuit against the town.
After years of foreclosures and short sales, things have finally stabilized. The graph below shows sales prices for the neighborhood on a biannual basis (twice per year), as well as the average change in sale price (percentage) for each individual home sold during each period.