An inside look at Chicago real estate

Mini-Hoods: Pocket Neighborhoods Offer New Construction Without the Commute

What’s new(ish), interesting and in short supply?

Answer: Infill neighborhoods – mini subdivisions of 10-25 homes, give or take, usually smack in the middle of a developed city or village.

Infill neighborhoods were gaining traction right before the Great Recession, when new construction slammed to a halt. But right in the depths of the housing crash – call it 2010 – a mini-hood known as School Street sprang up in north suburban Libertyville. It got so much buzz – it was on the Today Show, for goodness sake – you would have thought no one had ever built on reclaimed land before.

School Street Libertville

School Street Libertville

But its buzz and rapid-fire sellout were well deserved. School Street combined the best of land development trends and new thoughts about home design. The result was 26 smaller homes with big front porches on a neighborly street close to downtown Libertyville.

Since then, several more Chicago area mini-hoods have either opened for sales or are moving through the approval process.

Infill neighborhoods (typically on a plot of land that was too small to get the attention of home builders just a few years ago) appeal to the increasing number of buyers who want a new home – just not in a mega subdivision far off in the cornfields.

Part of School Street’s buzz was due to its neighborly land plan, which is designed to be better for the environment and for people. School Street not only has hallmarks of “new urbanism” design (big front porches, smaller lots, neighbor-friendly planning), it’s within walking distance of the train and many amenities.

Not all infill neighborhoods meet the criteria for new urbanism. In fact, the only real criteria for a neighborhood to be an infill is that it is filling in the leftover nooks and crannies of communities, “connecting the dots,” as city planners like to say, so that the community feels walkable and seamless.

In some cases, the acreage had never been developed, in other cases a closed school or factory leaves a parcel available. But because they are filling in leftover land the infill neighborhoods typically are within walking distance of downtowns, schools, commuter lines or expressways, and maybe even the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker. What these residents won’t have is a 10-mile round trip just to go buy diapers.

Less acreage and changing tastes mean that builders may decide to offer smaller homes on smaller lots. Buyers take the trade-off – they’d rather have the convenience of in-city living than the vast floor plans, vaulted ceilings, multi-gables and other “Bonfire of the Vanities” era accouterments.

Think tanks and city planners get thrills from infills due to the economic and environmental benefits, and the improved quality of life for residents. Mini-hoods also usually come with established infrastructure – the streets, water and lighting, for example are already there and presumably paid for. If residents can walk to destinations, they will be healthier, and use less gasoline.

Because School Street was so successful, the developer, Street Scape, is now creating another buzz – this time in Skokie. The company plans a similar development for the village’s Floral Avenue. The development will have 27 new homes in one of the village’s oldest sections near downtown. Development would start on the sites of the former Skokie Lanes and Holiday Cleaners.

Floral Avenue

Floral Avenue concept. Courtesy of @properties.

Like School Street in Libertyville, the neighborhood will have smaller lots and efficiently designed homes with big front porches. Coach homes are expected to start in the mid-$300,000s, and single-family homes around $450,000.

In the western suburbs, national builder M/I Homes has snagged two small parcels for development. Greenleaf in Westmont and the Vale at Flagg Creek in unincorporated Lyons Township near Willow Springs will have a combined total of 22 homes, a small scale unheard of just a few years ago.

Major builders like M/I usually look for larger land parcels so they can create economies of scale. But the small sites had prime locations and were rare finds.

“The Vale at Flagg Creek includes just 10 homes, so we expect the window of opportunity will close quickly here,” said Cheryl Bonk, vice president of sales and marketing for the Chicago division of M/I Homes. Greenleaf will have just 12 homes.

The Vale at Flagg Creek has a creek, mature trees, and is near numerous golf courses including Cog Hill, which has several courses, and nine-hole Flagg Creek. Homes start around $680,000.

Greenleaf offers homes starting under $500,000 and is within the boundaries of Hinsdale Central High School. It is surrounded by established neighborhoods.

Part of what makes mini-hoods so hot is that they aren’t plentiful. The perfect spot of land can be tough for developers to find and when it does develop chances are the homes will go fast. But dream homes are usually worth the effort – and if your neighborhood gets on the Today Show, that’s a bonus.