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Developer Upping 15-Year Bet On Woodlawn With Plans for $8.8M In New Homes

By Sam Cholke | January 27, 2017 8:34am
 Benjamin Van Horne is upping his bet on Woodlawn with plans to build 19 homes in the neighborhood this year.
Greenline Homes
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WOODLAWN — Greenline Development has $8.8 million in green homes queued up as single-family home construction ramps up in Woodlawn.

Benjamin Van Horne, owner of the company, said he’s finally seeing Woodlawn start to get the attention it deserves since he started building houses in the neighborhood 15 years ago, when he was living in a construction trailer while fixing up his first building there.

On Wednesday, the City Council approved selling Van Horne another seven city lots for $4 for a $2.7 million project to build seven 2,100-square-foot green homes that are expected to list at $389,900. The lots, on Marquette Road and Dorchester Avenue, once were the sites of a dry cleaners and laundry.

“I think maybe the flood has started, but people have been moving into the neighborhood since the recession,” Van Horne said.

Renters have already rediscovered the neighborhood and Van Horne said he thinks more people from Hyde Park and South Shore are looking to Woodlawn now to buy, part of the reason he’s trying to get 19 new homes built by the end of the year.

On Wednesday, City Council approved selling seven lots to Greenline Homes for $4 to build seven more single-family homes. [Provided by Greenline Homes]

“Woodlawn is where I started my career and where I have the deepest relationships,” Van Horne said. “It’s never reached its potential — it’s a hidden gem — and it’s now getting the attention it deserves.”

Van Horne has built more than 60 units in the neighborhood since he started in 2000. His first project was an abandoned building at 66th Street and Maryland Avenue with fire and water damage that he picked up cheap at a housing court sale, he said.

“I always wanted to be the developer that engaged in the community,” Van Horne said.

He quietly lived in the construction trailer for four years while fixing up condos and houses in the neighborhood during the day and going to CAPS and the alderman’s meetings at night to push for improvements for the neighborhood.

“I always thought it made sense to concentrate your efforts in one neighborhood,” Van Horne said. “I just met lots of great people and enjoyed working hard.”

One of the side effects of the home's insulation for heat retention is it is well soundproofed to block out the sound from the neighboring train tracks.

He said he’s not the biggest or most well known developer in the neighborhood, but has carved out a niche for himself building environmentally friendly single-family homes with solar panels on the roof and super efficient appliances throughout.

On Thursday, in the model home Van Horne has already completed at 1316 E. Marquette Road, it was hard to hear the Metra and freight trains go by, even though the house is built on the lot right next to the tracks.

The house is insulated throughout with triple-pane windows, all of which keeps in the heat in the winter and has the added benefit of keeping out the sound of the trains.

Van Horne said he only builds LEED-certified homes now and said he hopes the model home is his first that is rated at the highest level, platinum. He said the home is all electric and so efficient with the solar panels and other upgrades that the average utility bill is $17 per month.

He said the three-bedroom model home is already sold and he’s hoping its seven neighbors all sell as quickly.

Van Horne said he’s done other projects around the city, and has plans for several new homes in Grand Boulevard, but his focus is south of Madison Street.

“I would be happy being a South Side builder for the rest of my career,” Van Horne said.