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Aerial Photos of Green Trails Development - 1978

History of Green Trails

The Village of Lisle annexed Green Trails on January 21, 1975. Green Trails, as we know it today, evolved as it developed, and that evolution did not always follow the original plans.

In 1980, Ralph Kristensen, one of the developers, wrote a 5-page history of Green Trails. It is clear that evolution was going on even before Green Trails was formalized into a Planned Unit Development, and continued thereafter. The following are excerpts from his history with subtitles added and inserts providing updates to current times.

From a grand plan...

In the late 1960's, four land owners in an unincorporated area of DuPage County joined together to plan a "new community" called Green Trails. The four: St. Procopius Abbey and College now Benedictine University; Four Lakes Village Apartments; Elmhurst-Chicago Stone Company; and Huntington Development Company controlled the ownership of 2,050 Acres of land, generally bounded by Illinois Route 53, Maple Avenue, Oleson Lane, and Hobson Road.

The plan these owners created, providing for 8,000 dwelling units contrast with Green Trails' actual 2500 units and future population of 21,000 people, was approved by the DuPage County Board of Supervisors on August 25, 1970. In 1973, a development team led by Advance Construction Company of Hinsdale, was created to purchase, refine and actually build a portion of the Green Trails plan. Operating under the name GT, Ltd., the team acquired control of 645 acres of land owned by St. Procopius Abbey and two other small farms totaling 100 acres (not included in the original plan).

The name Green Trails was kept but now represented, generally, only the Abbey's portion of the original plan. Four Lakes remains Four Lakes; Elmhurst-Chicago Stone's holding became Seven Bridges; and Huntington's land has been, for the most part, developed residentially in the City of Naperville.

...emerged the Green Trails subdivision

The 745 acres we know as Green Trails today, were the prettiest of the 2,050. Rolling terrain, trees, pastured horses, cultivated fields and five families were all that was there.

The original plan was broad in scope and sparse in detail. Much more finite site data including soil, topography, and tree surveys were required for serious planning to begin. After many months of re-planning, GT, Ltd. presented to DuPage County, for their approval, the "mini" Green Trails which scaled-down proportionally, the land use plan they had approved earlier.

The County approved the new Green Trails plan on June 18, 1974 and final planning and engineering efforts began in earnest. With that final planning, it became increasingly apparent to GT, Ltd. that development of such a large project in an unincorporated area was unwise. For many complex reasons, not the least of which was Green Trails' impact on the Village of Lisle's services, the decision was made to annex to Lisle. That process was completed on January 21, 1975 with, for all intents and purposes, the County approved plan. Annexation also was completed into Lisle Park District and Lisle Fire Protection (now Lisle-Woodridge Fire District. The land was already in Naperville School District 203 except the northeast corner, which was later added to 203 and remains so.

Construction begins

Physical construction of improvements began in the summer of 1975. The first work was to bring water (from Maple Avenue) and sanitary sewer (from the DuPage River) to the site. College Road, as the main access to the property, was realigned. Subdivision work began in late 1975 and Columbia Homes opened their Woodglenn models on January 22, 1976. Collegewood, Surrey Ridge 2, The Promenades, Surrey Ridge 1, and Woodglenn Village followed to complete the balance of the only single family lots originally planned for Green Trails. All the rest of the land was planned for varying types of multi-family housing. Prior to 1980, The Oaks and one of the three Abbeywood Condos were the only multi-family developments. High Point followed soon thereafter.

Evolution continued

The Green Trails plan we see in 1980 is different from the one approved in 1975. While its major road system, trail system, school sites, and lake system remain the same, land use and projected population has been significantly decreased.

The original single family lots were quickly spoken for in the active real estate market period from 1976 to 1978. In 1978, aerial photos were taken of the Green Trails subdivision. Click the link in the last sentence to view those photos.

The multi-family market in that same period remained "soft." The demand for more single family lots and the Village's eagerness to rid itself of an "over-abundance" of multi-family land (Village-wide) led to the first of several "down-zonings." The areas known as Lakewood I & 2, Surrey Ridge 3, 4, & 5, Bloomfield, Tanahill, The Gardens and Heritage Farms 1-5 were down-zoned from 2,447 multifamily units to 644 single family lots. After 1980, other multi-family areas were also down-zoned to single family lots, notably, Tall Oaks in 1987, and Tyrnbury in 1988. Also, a commercial site was split into College Square Shopping Center and Lakewood South single family homes in 1986.

Areas along Benedictine Parkway were originally planned for "office/research." Today this area is built out with the Green Trails Shopping Center, 440 rental units in Green Trails Apartments, and 144 High Point condos. During the down-zonings some land was simply too expensive for conversion to single family, yet office/research was another original land use that, in hindsight, was unwise.

An important historical fact is that Green Trails was not originally planned to be the high priced, prestigious development that it has become. Aren't we glad it did!

The trail system

To gain further perspective of Green Trails evolution, another planning factor conceived initially and perpetuated since, must be understood: the “rear yard orientation” of lots to the trail system.   Typical front yard building setbacks and sidewalks were eliminated in order to gain more usable land and visual openness at the rear of homes.  The theory was that this is where most families spend their time outdoors.  Keeping children away from the streets and the increasing popularity of jogging, walking, cross-country skiing and cycling for the whole family were also factors in planning.

The trail system has grown in scope from 14 miles in 118 acres initially to approximately 21 miles in 130 acres.  The developer’s intentions were not to saddle a homeowner association with popular amenities of large and expensive buildings, pools, etc.  It was reasoned at the time, a more permanent amenity of land was more appropriate.  The intention was to provide the land necessary to accomplish this “unique” concept with the basic ingredients of grading, path and lighting installed.  In the case of the larger areas that would become Park District parks, tennis courts and play equipment were added. The total open space system (Park District and GTIA) represents an estimated cost of GT, Ltd., in land and improvements of $4,000,000 1980 or prior dollars.

While finite and “manicured” landscaping of the trail and open land system would, of course, have been desirable, it was not a practical one for GT, Ltd. to undertake.  Again, it was reasoned that if GT, Ltd. could provide the basic system, the homeowner association, Park District, and individual homeowners could, and would, “manicure” it in time and at their own pace.

Lakes and storm water

The only original lake in Green Trails was dug by the monks of the Abbey and is the one at College Road and Abbeywood Drive.  All the rest were built with the project.  The lakes are all owned and maintained, above the water line, by the Park District (below the water line by the Village).  The lakes perform two functions: one is the critically important role of storm water management; the other is the visual and recreational function.  The storm water management system for a 745 acre tract of land was, understandably, complex.  The engineering theory on which it was based is keeping rainwater as close to the point it falls for as long as possible.  To minimize the erosion impact on downstream areas, drainage law states that water cannot be allowed to leave “your” property any faster or in any increased quantity than it did when the land was undeveloped.  The trail system itself is the other, equally important, ingredient in the storm water system.  Grades in the open areas are very sensitive and cannot be altered without affecting the system.

Commercial areas

Early maps of Green Trails, show the currently developed commercial areas as #II and #III.  What about #I?  In a recent conversation, Ralph Kristensen brought up the fact that Commercial Area #1 was a site of a large barn in what is now Heritage Farms. The barn burned prior to construction getting underway.  After the fire, there was some thought about trying to reconstruct the barn for commercial purposes, but it was rejected as economically unfeasible.  This commercial site, along with the multifamily areas around it, later developed as single family homes.

Commercial area II was originally a 15 acre site, bounded by College Road, Green Trails Drive, and stretching west to Lexington Road and north to Village property where the water tower sits.  In 1986, the property was subdivided into the current College Road Shopping Center and the 40-lot single family homes of Lakewood South.

Fast early growth

Green Trails matured much quicker than anticipated.  Its rapid acceptance and growth took everyone by surprise including GT, Ltd., the Village, the Park District, and the Green Trails Improvement Association.

In its planning years of 1973 and 1974, the economic studies and demographics of Green Trails dictated a “modest” number (717) of single family homes on 70 foot wide lots and with retail sales prices averaging $54,000.  In actuality, the buyers of homes, strengthened economically by the ability to include spouses’ income for borrowing power, demanded larger and larger houses.  The builders who bought these already platted 70 foot wide lots accommodated the market’s demands.

It would be difficult to pinpoint an average original cost for the homes sold during the late 1970’s.  With demand high, it was a time of rapidly rising prices.  A home model, which sold initially for prices in the mid $80,000 range, might sell two years later in the upper $90,000’s.  The average price paid for homes as they were built in the late 1970’s was likely pushing closer to $100,000 than that $54,000 figure from the developer’s economic studies.

Growth continued at varied pace

High interest rates in the early 1980’s slowed building nearly to a halt.  Development then continued at a varied pace throughout the 1980’s.  The last area of the 1975 Green Trails Planned Unit Development to be subdivided in final form was Tyrnbury in 1988.  In its finished state, Green Trails is platted for 1675 single family homes.  (Each of several duplexes are counted as two single family.)  Additionally, there are 836 condos and apartments, totaling 2511 dwelling units in Green Trails.  One home on Coach House Road was just built in year 2000.  All but two lots, both in Surrey Ridge 1, have been built upon.

In addition to the land included in the 1975 Green Trails PUD, two adjacent areas have developed during the 1990’s.  Collegewood Court (4 single family homes) became associate members of Green Trails Improvement Association in 1996 and 1997, respectively.


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