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Features - Design/Build

When design approval takes a village, communication and compromise help keep a project moving along.

Kristen Hampshire | December 5, 2012

The Village of Frankfort, Ill., was keeping watch on this landscape project. It wasn’t like the rest in this 1890s Southland Chicago suburb, which is streetscaped the old-fashioned way with quintessential street lamps and charming, restored homes.

First, up went a new home on the vacant lot planted on the village’s main drag, where an annual fall festival attracts visitors from all over and a farmer’s market keeps the town bustling on weekends. The new construction caused a stir. And rumbling climbed to a buzz when the homeowner acquired the adjacent property to build a luxurious pool house and richly landscaped retreat.

This was nothing like usual Frankfort fare.

“There was a string of cars that would constantly stop and look at the project on any given day,” says Mark McClure, sales manager at Beary Landscaping, which was hired to create a resort-quality outdoor living space that honored Frankfort’s village feel and fit within the tight town property.

“A lot of tear-down and new construction is not done in Frankfort,” McClure adds. This project took “new” in Frankfort to a different level. The plans included a house connected to the home by a cat-walk, a deck of travertine and an outdoor kitchen with all the amenities.

McClure says the project ultimately resulted in building a new standard for the town’s new construction projects. And once-skeptical neighbors were content at project completion, having gained some new landscaping of their own (the homeowner paid for it, too). 

But getting village approval required diligence and preparation, and the sheer logistics of working in a tight town space presented challenges throughout the six-month construction period. McClure shares how Beary Landscaping pulled off this unique project.


Pleasing a village.
It’s not that the villagers intended to be a tough crowd. But there’s a pride of place in Frankfort. There’s an old-time charisma that people work to preserve, whether through restoring the old Victorian homes that line the town center’s character-filled streets or participating in the village’s many community events. The people who live in Frankfort care about retaining the dignity of its history, which begins with tales of the Blackhawk Indians who built trails there before European settlers arrived.

Today, Frankfort is a choice location in South Chicagoland, dubbed “The Jewel of the South Suburbs.”

And to keep the village that way, there is strict architectural review and oversight on building projects like the one Beary Landscaping proposed.

“A lot of people were against the project at first,” McClure says, noting how the homeowner wanted to erect stone walls around the back of the project to blend with the town’s look and add privacy. The owner respected the village’s desire to maintain its old-time feel with the home construction, even painting the brick so it would blend with area structures.

But no resident had ever proposed building an in-ground pool downtown. And the downtown community wasn’t sure about the homeowner’s planned structures and usage of the space.

Before Beary Landscaping could break ground on the project, a presentation to the Village of Frankfort was required. Throughout the project, Beary Landscaping worked closely with the village board to keep everyone apprised of the construction process – and to ensure that all of the neighbors would be pleased with the results.

First, the plan was presented at a village meeting in front of community members and the village board of directors. “We decided to do a complete rendered drawing so the plan was visible and everyone could see how the design would fit into the community,” McClure says. Clippings and samples were critical to painting a vivid picture of the proposed landscape design. Photographs of key landscape features brought the rendering to life.  

Then, the villagers began asking questions “It was critical for us to be there and talk to neighbors about the minimal impact of the construction and to assure them that it wasn’t going to be a lengthy process,” McClure says. “We proposed to get in, get the job done, and get out of there.”

That sounded like a great plan to villagers who were highly interested in keeping their neighborhood peace.

Still, there was some opposition. But dissent was met with this welcome compromise: The homeowner funded the purchase of landscaping materials for neighboring properties to help screen views and soften hard features. Some were full-sized evergreens, spruce, hawthorns and multi-stemmed plants providing year-round coverage.    

“The neighbors were thrilled with that solution,” McClure says. “They got something that adds value to their properties, and the (large) project itself adds value to their homes because now it sets a new standard.”


Setting a new standard.
A majestic spiral-topiary juniper tree is a living centerpiece on the property, elegantly positioned among a travertine that borders the in-ground pool.

The homebuilder personally specified that tree and had it transported from downtown Chicago. The tree had to be just the right size to suit the plan. This attention to detail was maintained throughout construction.

And the property’s impact is because of its polished appearance, from the curvaceous border beds to elegant water arches pouring in a perfect soldier-line into the pool.

The property is packed with flowers – “We wanted flowers everywhere,” McClure says – and sophisticated landscape lighting brings the property to life at dusk.

All this was accomplished in a space no larger than 225 by 110 feet. That’s a squeeze for an extravagant pool house with all the landscape dressing. “A lot of the area was covered with structure, pavement, travertine, hardscape … and the rest was landscaping,” McClure says of the materials mix.

This secret garden is not fully visible from street view, just as the homeowner intended. “Once the landscaping was done,” McClure says, “area homeowners realize they were also gaining from this project.”
 

Winning acceptance

Board approval isn’t easy when a design/build project breaks the norm. Here is how one firm eased a community’s concerns.

Beary Landscaping had a vision for a landscape design that would fill a vacant lot in the center of historic downtown Frankfort, Ill. The trick was to illustrate the plan to skeptical villagers and earn their approval.

“You know in your heart what it’s going to look like, and it was our job to help everyone understand the plan,” says Mark McClure, sales manager at Beary Landscaping, based in Lockport, Ill.

Because this particular landscape design cut against the village’s old-time grain (in-ground pool, travertine, full outdoor kitchen), there was plenty of buzz, and a fair amount of opposition before Beary Landscaping presented the project at the town hall.

“It isn’t easy being in a board room and having a community against a project and trying to get them to accept it and believe in what you are trying to do,” McClure says.  But that is exactly what Beary Landscaping accomplished: approval and, eventually, praise from area homeowners.

Here is how Beary maintained a strong relationship with the village board while working to ensure neighbors of the property-under-construction would be satisfied with the end result. 


Show, don’t tell.
Pictures and samples help bring a rendering to life. While a complete drawing of the landscape project showed villagers the scope of the landscape project, the visual clues helped them understand how the property would blend with their historic downtown. “People for the most part are visual, and they like to see the prettiness because landscaping is a colorful thing when finished,” McClure says.


Respect the fear.
Villagers, and particularly neighboring homeowners, were concerned about the project because the town works together to preserve its history. Since this property was located on the main drag, its appearance became a public matter. “A lot of people are afraid for anything new,” McClure says. “Work with them. Respect that fear. And help them overcome the fear of a new project coming in next door by listening and answering their questions.”


Stay in touch. After gaining approval to begin the project, Beary Landscaping worked with village inspectors and kept open lines of communication with the board and village leaders during construction. “They wanted to make sure we didn’t deviate from the plan once it was accepted, and we did what we said we were going to do,” McClure says.

 

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