A total of 312 new houses could be coming to south Naperville on one of the final remaining farms in town, a site that could have been destined for denser housing or a variety of other uses had economic conditions not changed.
The city's planning and zoning commission Wednesday gave unanimous approval to plans from Pulte Homes for Wagner Farms, a 105-acre subdivision with houses of between 2,400 and 3,600 square feet. The proposal also calls for an 8-acre site for a new campus of The Compass Church.
The church would occupy the northeast corner of Route 59 and 103rd Street, while the houses, streets, sidewalks and stormwater areas would take up the rest of the 113-acre site.
In the Wagner family for three generations since 1961, the land used to be a wholesale farm growing tomatoes and carrots for Campbell's Soups, said Russ Whitaker, attorney for the project. It later turned into a well-known farmstand.
A year ago, current farmstand operator Pam White made the "very difficult decision" to sell the property on which her family has long made a living, Whitaker said.
"They are no longer able to operate the business that they moved here for," he said.
Pulte is under contract to purchase the site, but the transaction has not been finalized.
Still, the builder sought permission to put something different on the site from what was planned in a zoning update in 2002. Naperville officials decided then that Wagner Farm should become commercial property, senior housing and mixed-density residential.
But largely because of the rise in online commerce and the resulting downturn in brick-and-mortar retail, Whitaker said it no longer makes sense to locate commercial sites along Route 59.
He said more senior housing also has been built in Naperville than was imagined during the 2002 planning process -- such as Carillon Club, Ashwood Crossing, the Enclave at Ashwood Park and Arbor Terrace -- making regular houses a better use than senior-targeted dwellings.
In what he called likely a first for a real estate attorney, Whitaker asked commissioners to approve less than was planned, rather than more.
"My client would like to do something that is less intensive, less units, less development space overall," he said.
Commissioners went with it. They unanimously agreed Pulte's plans for 312 houses and a church are the best fit for the site, and they recommended the project for city council approval.
"I know it's tough to see giant spaces like this get developed. It's hard to see it happen, and the city's comprehensive plan calls for much higher density than this," Commissioner Bianca Morin said. "I'm encouraged that Pulte came in ... and put a lot of consideration into the type of product they want to put in."
The commission's approval came despite concerns about flooding, school crowding, traffic and the lack of a park planned within the subdivision. But Whitaker, after a year of planning on Pulte's behalf, had answers for each concern.
He said there is no stormwater detention on the farm now, meaning the planned central basin and other stormwater sites will decrease the water that runs off the site toward nearby homes.
"We're providing more floodplain storage on our property than exists today," Whitaker said.
Future Wagner Farms residents will send their children to schools in Indian Prairie Unit District 204, and Whitaker said the district was "neutral" on the subdivision plan.
To help with traffic on 103rd Street heading west toward Route 59, Whitaker said Pulte will re-stripe the road to add a right-turn lane, helping northbound cars bypass those waiting at the signal.
And as far as parks, Whitaker said Pulte is in talks with the Naperville Park District to contribute toward a plan to build a "Riverwalk-esque" public plaza at Frontier Park near the 95th Street Library.
All of these answers made planning and zoning commissioners comfortable with the plan for the largest new Naperville housing development in at least five years, topping the 300 houses Pulte built in the Atwater subdivision on the city's northwest side, beginning in early 2016.
"The project proposed now is really a good solution to one of the last few pieces in Naperville to be developed," Commissioner Brett Fessler said.
It needs final approval from the city council during a later meeting.