Don't call Oswego a boom town. Village officials will tell you it is so past that. Boundary agreements with neighboring towns? Done. Updated comprehensive plan? Check. More schools? Got 'em, in spades. New village hall? The doors opened in May.
Nor should you refer to Oswego as the next Naperville. It never will be and does not intend to be. It has, by design, kept its small-town charm, thanks in part to the Fox River that put it on the map and the 156-year-old downtown that still serves as its nexus.
Yes, Oswego's ice factory is gone and the grain mill is shuttered. But teenagers from miles around still go to The Prom Shoppe (formerly Jacqueline's) to buy their prom dresses. Neighbors still line up on Saturday mornings at the cash-only Oswego Family Restaurant for its Panther Skillets, named for the high school's mascot. And the reopening of the Dari Hut ice cream shop still marks the beginning of spring.
Oswego's village president, Brian LeClercq, a financial consultant by day, personifies his town. His Oswego roots date back six generations but he wears a white collar instead of the work shirt his farmer forefathers wore. He and his wife, Anne, who descends from the town's founding family, the Pearces, are raising their family here, living down the street from the one-room schoolhouse (now a museum) their relatives attended and the church where they worshipped.
As he strolls down Main Street, LeClercq is on a first-name basis with the townsfolk. He admits the owner of the men's clothing store knows his shirt size, and the guys at the gas station where he worked as a teen still remind him of the time when he sent a customer to a competitor.
But, like the southwest suburb he runs, LeClercq doesn't take himself too seriously. "I take full responsibility for the housing slowdown," he jokingly replies to those who gripe about the economy. Yet he backs a no-nonsense approach to slashing the village budget and readying its infrastructure for future growth.
Unlike the springs of the last few years, though, when builders squeezed into village hall for building permits, this spring sees a slower, but steady, stream of housing starts here. After a peak of 945 residential permits in 2005, Oswego issued 425 in 2007 and projects 330 in 2008. The town is mostly built out to the west and north, where it abuts Yorkville, Montgomery and Aurora. But it still has some room to grow to the east and south before it meets Plainfield and Joliet. Its current population of about 27,000 will expand to 100,000 after it is built out. "But I don't see that happening for 20 or more years," predicts LeClercq.
Like many villages, Oswego is seeing builders and developers slow down until housing prices recover. That means it is a buyers' market for people like Rick and Lee Anne Widmer, who bought a two-story house in March in the Southbury subdivision.
"We looked at Montgomery, Plainfield and Oswego," says Rick, whose family is from the southwest suburbs. "We wanted to be out of the congestion of closer-in suburbs but not too far out. The prices of the houses here clinched the deal."
The father of three elementary-school children, Widmer describes Oswego as "a family-oriented town with great schools and controlled growth."
The Widmers' builder, Orleans Homebuilders Inc. in Schaumburg, offers single-family houses here starting at $319,990.
Another development in this price range includes Roslin Reserve, where a 3,012-square-foot house starts at $353,400 and includes wooden siding, 9-foot, first-floor ceilings and wooden and ceramic flooring. The development includes a clubhouse, sports center and pool.
North Aurora-based Wyndham Deerpoint Homes' The Estates of Fox Chase includes two-story and ranch houses that start at $330,000, with 1,988 square feet. Standard amenities include full appliance packages and soaker tubs in the master bathrooms.
Buyers with tighter budgets can look at the few home sites left at Oswego-baseed Meadowview Development's Brighton Meadows, where the base price is $299,900 for a 2,300-square-foot model house. Features include granite countertops, whirlpool tubs and wood-burning fireplaces.
Wheaton-based Wiseman-Hughes Enterprises is offering townhouses starting at $256,900 and single-family houses at $289,900 at its Ashcroft Walk and Ashcroft Place, respectively.
Town & Country Homes is developing two of the largest projects in Oswego. Churchill Club, a 550-acre development, will contain more than 1,200 homes when completed. Hunt Club, a 700-acre development, will encompass 700 homes. Churchill Club homes range from 2,700 to 3,100 square feet, starting at about $270,000. Hunt Club homes range from 2,200 to 3,500 square feet, starting at about $230,000.
Those at the high end of the home market can head to Oswego to build their dream houses. Gina and Mark Sendef hired Oswego-based Weilert Custom Homes to build their forever house in Deerpath Trails in 2007.
"We had lived in Oswego already so we knew this is where we wanted to build," says Gina, the mother of three. "We had done our homework and knew what design and products we wanted."
Sendef says the high marks Oswego's school district gets were the No. 1 reason they stayed in town. "But it's also nice that we have everything we need here," she says. "I rarely have to drive out of town to shop or find a restaurant."
Vintage homesBuyers who prefer a historic house can find some charmers in Oswego. They range from a sampling of early-20th-Century catalog houses near downtown to former farmhouses on the town's outskirts. Recent sales include an 1850 farmhouse for $160,000, a 1946 Cape Cod for $154,900 and a 1950s ranch for $259,900.
"The older, in-town houses sell quickly, usually to old-house fans who like to be within walking distance of stores, the library and an elementary, junior and high school," reports Realtor Judy Sollinger with Weis Real Estate in Oswego.
TransportationOswego commuters can catch the Metra train to Chicago from stations in Aurora or Naperville or take the Orchard Road entrance to Interstate Highway 88. But just as many residents take one of the roads that criss-cross the town, including Illinois Highways 31and 25, to employers in the area.
Looking aheadMost of the growth in the next decade in Oswego, say village officials, will be commercial. "The [U.S. Highway] 34 and Orchard Road corridors are exploding," says Gary Adams, village administrator. Recently, nearly every big-box store — from Home Depot to Target — has arrived, plus chain restaurants aplenty.
"Compared to 10 years ago," says Adams, "we have a lot more professional offices, too — doctors, lawyers, financial advisers. So you no longer have to go to Aurora or Naperville for that."
Although Oswego is a bedroom community in Kendall County for many who commute to DuPage County's high-tech corridor, Oak Brook, Naperville or Chicago, it has a growing base of employers. The biggies include the Oswego Community School District 308 and Anfinsen Plastic Molding & Assembly Inc.
LeClercq says his to-do list is to encourage more mixed-use developments. To that end, he gives a thumbs-up to Hummel Trails, which will be launched in 2009 or 2010 by Macom Corp. and Oliver-Hoffman Corp., both in Naperville. It will include single- and multifamily houses, age-restricted townhouses, an assisted-living facility and a fire station.
Macom also plans to develop Parksmith, which will include single and multifamily houses and commercial space. Its name comes from the Smith family who once farmed this land and from the late Wally Parks, who founded the National Hot Rod Association. It sanctioned the Oswego Drag Raceway, which was located here later.
As Oswego matures, LeClercq says he and his colleagues are trying to strike a balance, ushering smart development on the village's perimeter while continuing their downtown redevelopment program.
"Keeping the charm down here; that's really important," says LeClercq as he looks around Oswego's downtown. "But making sure the rest of the village gives the residents what they want; that's important, too."