Former Hastert sale property remains farmland years later
By Steve Lord firstname.lastname@example.org July 19, 2012 9:38PM
The Prairie Parkway originally was proposed to cut into the heart of Kendall County. But the federal government has declared the project dead, and Kendall County now wants to get a share of money that was dedicated for the roadway. | File photo
Updated: August 21, 2012 6:09AM
It might be the most famous patch of corn in Illinois.
The approximately 139-acre field at Galena and Little Rock roads has been mentioned on national TV and in national newspapers, and once belonged to the U.S. Speaker of the House. When it sold for almost $5 million in 2005, it became front-page news.
The reason for all the attention was that the former Speaker, Dennis Hastert, was one of the owners of part of the property that made about $2 million in profit when it sold.
Hastert, through a spokesman, and the buyer of the property, developer Art Zwemke, at the time insisted that the sale price was only slightly connected to the fact the proposed Prairie Parkway would run about three miles west of the property, with the possibility of an interchange with Galena Road.
The Prairie Parkway is a proposed interstate-like highway linking Interstates 88 and 80 through Kane and Kendall counties.
Hastert bought a 195-acre estate for about $2.125 million, or about $11,000 an acre, then sold part of it along with other land two years later for about $5 million, or about $36,000 an acre. The Beacon-News broke the story about Hastert’s profit in a three-part report in 2006 that included discussion about the effect of Prairie Parkway corridor on land values.
Hastert has maintained that the increase in land values had more to do with development moving west from Kane and DuPage counties than the parkway corridor.
The CBS news show “60 Minutes” used the situation as an example of a congressman benefiting from inside information. Hastert was the one who helped site the basic area for the Prairie Parkway — the official corridor was recorded after a year of public hearings by the Illinois Department of Transportation. Hastert also had a lot to do with pushing through a transportation bill that allocated design, construction and study money for the Prairie Parkway.
Since then, the Prairie Parkway project has been stalled, but not abandoned.
A few weeks ago, Zwemke, who still has plans to develop on the property at Little Rock and Galena roads, said it is “a misnomer” that the Prairie Parkway location had anything to do with the price of the land going from about $11,000 an acre to about $36,000 an acre. He said the land still is valuable, despite doubts the Prairie Parkway will ever get built.
“The Prairie Parkway didn’t really enter into the equation,” he said. “It’s a wonderful property. If and when the Prairie Parkway is built, it would be a little cherry on the sundae.”
When pressed as to whether or not he believes the Parkway will be built, he points to the years he, as a resident of Wayne, watched the battle to develop the Fox Valley Freeway. That never happened.
“I’ll believe it when I see it,” he said.
Still, Zwemke, president of the St. Charles-based Robert Arthur Land Company, intends to develop 727 acres with about 1,500 homes, 27 acres of commercial and a 30-acre school site, known as the North Country.
Only about 139 acres of that site was the land Zwemke purchased from Hastert, whose partners in the deal were former Kendall County Republican Party Chairman Dallas Ingemunson and Tom Klatt, a former Bristol Township Trustee.
The North Country plan has been approved through a 20-year annexation agreement with the city of Plano. The agreement was struck in 2007, and as of right now, Zwemke said the plan is effectively on hold.
“We’re farming it right now, waiting until the market comes back,” Zwemke said. “I think it’s valuable property. We like the city of Plano.”
Zwemke said before anything goes forward, his company needs two things to happen: the foreclosure issue in the region must be settled; and the unemployment rate has to go down.
“We need it to be back to more normal rates” to sell mortgages, Zwemke said. “With the prices like they are for short sales, it’s impossible to meet those price points.”
Plano Mayor Bob Hausler said the city still is planning on the North Country development, but it is delayed.
“That’s kind of the situation on all our developments,” he said.
Zwemke said his company might have to change the way they develop the property — rather than a “mega-development,” they might build it in phases, in four areas, sort of “three or four little sub-developments.”
As for the Prairie Parkway, no one knows if it will ever be built. The corridor is recorded, and officials have said there might be enough money to build the section that crosses the Fox River.
But until a final transportation bill is passed, and the economy changes, the future of the Prairie Parkway is as much up in the air as any other development.
“Now with the economy so bad, it seems like we should concentrate on existing roadways,” Zwemke said.