Illinois village with coveted school district braces for more growth

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  • Dunlap’s growth accelerated from the 1990s and continues today
  • Village officials say infrastructure work will be needed to accommodate additional houses
  • Homebuilding has slowed down, but there are still plans for additional new homes

DUNLAP – It’s no secret that the excellence of the Dunlap School District is an important factor in the continued growth of the community.

Ranked in the top 10% of Illinois’ best school districts based on math and reading scores, Dunlap District 323 is enough to inspire families to move to a community with just one restaurant and no grocery stores.

“We have many, many people moving to this area for our school district,” said Mayor Jack Esterdahl, a retired Dunlap teacher. He is one of many residents who give the school district credit for bringing them to the area. Esterdahl moved his family to Dunlap in 1986.

For most locals, the lack of shopping in the small town is not a problem, Esterdahl said.

“When you talk about getting into Peoria, you’re only 15 minutes away,” he said. “The majority of our people go to Peoria, East Peoria, Morton, some even Bartonville, for their work, and then they will shop in Peoria.

“We have the atmosphere of the neighborhood”

For Beau and Sarah Feuchter, Dunlap offers the best of both worlds: a large school district and the ease of living in a small town. The Feuchts and their four sons lived in Dunlap for six years in a house they had built in the Copperfield subdivision.

“We moved to Copperfield because we felt like a neighborhood,” Beau Feuchter said. “Children can ride their bikes in the streets and there are sidewalks, and there are a lot of children and families. But also, we are a bit towards the back (of the housing estate) and there are woods. in back.”

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For the Fuechters, who lived in Peoria before building their home, proximity to a large school district was the deciding factor.

“I have four kids now, when we moved we had three kids, and we basically knew their life was going to revolve around school, going to school every day and being active. extracurricular, ”Beau Feuchter said. “We wanted to be close to their schools.

A farming community becomes a dormitory community

Dunlap – which turned 150 this year – saw its first European settlers in 1837 when the city’s founder, Alva Dunlap, built a house to the south-east of present-day Dunlap. By the mid-1900s, Dunlap’s proximity to the greater Peoria area made it attractive to people looking for a more rural place to call home.

It was then that the small farming community began a serious growth spurt when construction of a new housing estate began in the village. Named Copperfield, the development was designed by the late Bob Wilkins, President and Owner of Traders Realty & Development Corporations.

“My father-in-law started it,” said Jeff Kolbus, president of RE / MAX Traders Unlimited. “We bought the land in the late 1980s and started developing it – I believe it was 1995. We’re in our seventh phase of Copperfield, and we’ve developed 237 host sites up to here. We have room for just one more phase, with around 20 more bundles.

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The subdivision is populated with high-end homes, with values ​​ranging from around $ 300,000 to over $ 1 million. With a low property tax rate, Dunlap is attractive to those who wish to own an upscale home.

Overall property taxes in the village represent 7.44% of the equalized assessed value of a house, compared to between 8.8% and 10.25% depending on where one lives in the city of Peoria, depending on the county property tax records.

“One thing we’re proud of is we’re still the lowest tax (rate) in Peoria County,” Esterdahl said.

Recent growth not quite at the levels recorded in the early 2000s

While construction of new homes has slowed over the past year and a half due to material shortages caused by the pandemic, a few lots were still sold this summer, said Dunlap Village Superintendent Dale Bishop. Recently, a construction crew was hard at work on a new house standing among the older houses in the subdivision.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, homes were selling at the rate of about 20 per year. This growth prompted the village to request a special census in 2005.

“The population had grown so much over that five or six year period that we wanted to do a special census. It cost us money, but we know that we have gained a number of people in the village and we wanted to do a census so that we can start collecting taxpayer money, ”Esterdahl said.

The special 2005 census found that the village had grown by more than 380 people since 2000. According to the 2020 census, Dunlap has grown 15.7% since 2010, adding 217 people.

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Is the infrastructure up to more residents?

Population growth – and the additional taxes it brings – have been good for Dunlap, and village chiefs are hoping for greater growth in the future. But they are also aware that infrastructure work is needed to support more residents, Esterdahl said.

“We are in the process of installing a second water pipe in the village,” he said. “In the late 1970s, early 1980s, a water pipe was built along Cedar Hills Drive to the village … and which has served the village well for 40 years. And now with Copperfield, we’ve discovered that there are areas of Copperfield where the water pressure isn’t quite what it should be. … So now we are in the process of installing a second water line from Orange Prairie Road north along Route 91 to the village.

Another facility that has the potential to limit future growth is the sewage treatment plant. The village currently has a pair of lagoons bordered by farmland in the eastern part of town. Built in 1967, the system uses photosynthesis to purify wastewater.

“This is an optional pond with a rock filter,” Bishop said as the city van maneuvered around the facility. “There just aren’t many of these types of facilities that meet EPA standards, but ours works. This process does not cost us any money, although we did spend money on the elevator system to bring the sewage into the factory.

Dunlap's wastewater treatment process consists of a pair of lagoons that use rock filtration and photosynthesis for purification.  The system will need to be expanded if the village continues to grow.

The processing plant is still compliant, but once the last house is built in Copperfield, the system will be at full capacity. The village already has an expansion plan, Bishop said. A large pile of soil acquired during the Orange Prairie Road expansion will be used to raise the sides of the lagoons to increase the capacity of the lagoons.

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Will Dunlap continue to grow?

While there are no immediate plans for another subdivision, there have been discussions about the possibility of annexing farmland near the new water line, Esterdahl said. This idea would depend on the landowners and whether or not the project was taken over by a developer. While it was relatively easy to tap into nearby sewer lines during the construction of Copperfield, expanding along Orange Prairie Road would not offer such a simple solution, Kolbus said.

“It’s always the very first thing we look for as a developer: where’s the water? Where is the sewer? If it’s not very close, we have to figure out how expensive it will be to get water and sewage to the property, ”he said.

Dunlap Village Superintendent Dale Bishop, left, and Mayor Jack Estedahl discuss the village's exponential growth in recent years.

Although growth has been healthy, Esterdahl and Bishop have a soft spot for Dunlap, the small town. As longtime residents of the community, the men saw him move from a small town where everyone knew each other to a dormitory community in Peoria.

“There were 850 residents when I started working here 32 years ago,” Bishop said. “Now we have 1,603 residents. ”

There is no doubt that growth has made the community more prosperous. When Bishop started his job 33 years ago, all the town had was a mower, tractor, and truck that didn’t work most of the time. Today, they have a whole fleet of vehicles, enough to clear the streets of the village all winter. And they have money for improvements. Currently, crews are replacing sidewalks in the older part of the village, where 110-year-old houses are carefully maintained by longtime residents.

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With the addition of the Copperfield Subdivision and associated population growth, the Village of Dunlap is adding a second water line from Orange Prairie Road north along Highway 91 to the village.  The iconic water tower will no longer be needed and will eventually be dismantled.

While prosperity is nice, some of the changes it brings can be bittersweet. Esterdahl is already mourning the imminent disappearance of the town’s water tower. A symbol of the community, it can be seen across the miles of farmland that surround Dunlap. Once the new water line to Orange Prairie Road is completed, the tower will no longer be in use and will be removed, Esterdahl said.

“We may have to delay this for a while. ”

Leslie Renken can be reached at (309) 370-5087 or [email protected] Follow her on Facebook.com/leslie.renken.


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