Huntley community profile

Joan and Carter Berg, among the first 200 buyers at Del Webb’s Sun City in Huntley, use their golf cart for getting around the large retirement community. (Jack Handley/ Photo for the Chicago Tribune / November 25, 2010)

Joan Berg may have had a hand in launching a building boom in Chicago's far northwest suburbs.

She doesn't make that claim, but she could have had some influence on Del Webb's decision to build a 5,500-home retirement community in rural Huntley, 50 miles from the Loop.

Joan and her husband, Carter, wanted to move from Schaumburg to a retirement community, but they didn't want to leave their children and grandchildren.

"I called Del Webb's office in Phoenix and asked them to consider coming to Illinois. They replied that they had never built in a cold climate and didn't think people would want to retire there," she said.

Finally, after calling with the same question for several months, she said, a Del Webb executive asked her to supply a list of people who might buy at a Sun City in the Chicago area. She did that, and to her delight Del Webb in 1995 started looking for a site for the company's first Snow Belt retirement development for buyers 55 and older.

Among the first 200 buyers at Del Webb's Sun City Huntley, the Bergs moved in June 1999 into a 1,344-square-foot, two-bedroom ranch that cost $186,000.

"We were pioneers, and everything was exciting," said Joan.

One of the first things they did was buy a golf cart so they could buzz around the massive property and watch the rapid construction of neighborhoods, the clubhouse and 18-hole golf course.

Since then, this middle-class, semi-rural community has exploded residentially. In the last decade, the village rates as one of the fastest-growing towns in the Chicago area, with a population soaring from 5,730 in 2000 to an estimated 23,000 now.

"Sun City put Huntley on the map in housing," said Village Manager David Johnson.

Located north of Interstate Highway 90 (Northwest Tollway) on both sides of Illinois Highway 47, Huntley retains some of its farming roots despite the building boom that has transformed acres of cornfields into 18 subdivisions.

Over its 14.2 square miles in both McHenry and Kane counties, Huntley is a patchwork of rural and suburban: silos and barns, strip shopping and traffic congestion.

Despite being on the outer edge of the Chicago area, Huntley is about a 30- to 40-minute drive from O'Hare International Airport and an hour or more to the Loop, depending on traffic. Because of its proximity to I-90, it offers convenient commuting to northwest corridor job markets.

The community boasts an extremely low crime rate, said Police Chief John Perkins.

"People feel so safe here that they don't always lock their houses and cars. But that can lead to thefts and problems for us," he said.

"Everybody thinks of Huntley as just Sun City," said real estate analyst Tracy Cross, "but the village already was on the path for growth before that. It was positioned as the next stop west for major residential construction."

However, Cross noted that in the boom years between 2002 and 2005, Huntley was "caught in the exuberance of growth. The village's attitude was bigger is better. Single-family home prices rose to over $400,000, but the market couldn't afford it. At the same time, the village increased impact fees and subdivision requirements."

One of those new subdivisions that started rolling at about the same time as Sun City was Cambridge Homes' 700-home Southwind. Bill and Barb Heiden bought there in 1999. Their four-bedroom, 2,200-square-foot home cost $220,000.

Bill Heiden praised Huntley's schools that their son, a high school senior, and daughter, a 7th grader, attend.