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Local News

'Unique critter' Boulder Hill poses a challenge for county

Subdivision has history of fierce independence, objection to annexation

A sign greets motorists on Route 30 at Briarcliff Road, welcoming them to Boulder Hill.
A sign greets motorists on Route 30 at Briarcliff Road, welcoming them to Boulder Hill.

Boulder Hill resident Kay Hatcher said the community was a “unique critter” when it was proposed back in the 1950s.

The sprawling subdivision with a population of just over 8,000 as of the 2010 Census remains a unique species, as services like road maintenance, police protection and water service all are taken care of by various entities – Oswego Township, Kendall County and the village of Montgomery. The subdivision’s singularity can make for some challenges when it comes to property maintenance issues like multiple cars in driveways and grass that has grown too tall.

But county officials say they are trying to be more aggressive about how property maintenance and other problems are enforced.

Hatcher, a retired state representative and former member of the Kendall County Board and School District 308 Board of Education, moved into Boulder Hill in 1972 and lived there until 1992, when she moved to rural Yorkville. She and her husband, Steve, moved in 2015 back into Boulder Hill, where they reside in an apartment.

When Don L. Dise proposed the development in 1955, the local laws for zoning and planning were in their infancy and probably not ready for a subdivision with a population of 10,000-plus, Hatcher said.

“Boulder Hill was a very unique critter,” she said. “We remember the stories of the county board laughing whenever Don Dise came to them to say he was going to build this city out of the middle of a pasture. So the community grew a little more helter-skelter than it might with today’s zoning [laws].”

And as Kendall County State’s Attorney Eric Weis pointed out recently, the power of county government to control issues in “the Hill” is limited.

“The county does not have the same powers that municipalities have regarding property maintenance issues,” he said. “We are a little bit hamstrung when it comes to that, because it’s not in the county code to allow counties to do some of the things municipalities are allowed to do. But there are other things that the county can enforce, and I think [the board] is taking a second look at that, especially when it comes to Boulder Hill but also the other residential areas ... in unincorporated areas.”

County Board Chairman Scott Gryder said that for property maintenance problems, the county has been only enforcing such violations if a neighbor complains about them. But Gryder said he wants the county building inspector to be able to write up citations on his own when he sees violations.

“The PBZ [Planning, Building and Zoning] department has one building code officer to serve the entire county,” Gryder said. “We are currently working to give him the ability to write citations on his own initiative rather than just through the complaint-driven system as it currently exists. That would remove one barrier that currently exists.”

Gryder encouraged residents with complaints about property maintenance issues to call the county’s zoning department at 630-553-4141 or send an email to zoning@co.kendall.il.us.

“There are limitations because county subdivisions are typically maintained by the townships,” Gryder said. “County governments statutorily have a very limited lane in which they can operate. Boulder Hill adds extra level of uniqueness by having water service through the village of Montgomery as well.”

Gryder said the county has a “good relationship with the township.”

“The sheriff, highway engineer, code officer all work well with the township,” he said. “One area where the county, township, state Rep. Mark Batinick and others worked together was on the light bulb program. The sheriff indicated that having more lighting would help decrease crime and we had a board member step up immediately to work with the township to make that happen. We are always seeking ways to work with other taxing bodies to see what ways we can work together and welcome an ongoing dialogue with Oswego Township to see what more we can do.”

But converting Boulder Hill into its own incorporated municipality or annexing property into nearby Oswego or Montgomery is most likely not a change that Boulder Hill residents would welcome, at least those who have spoken with Gryder.

“That is a decision the residents can make if they should decide that is something they want to do,” he said. “I grew up in an unincorporated subdivision and always enjoyed the freedom that comes from not living within corporate boundaries. From the residents I have spoken to, there does not seem to be any appetite for annexing at this time, but I have learned to never say never!”

Movements to incorporate once-unincorporated towns are not new in Kendall County. The residents of Millbrook and Plattville voted to incorporate in 2002 and 2006, respectively. In 1997, a grassroots push to incorporate the town of Bristol, nestled between Yorkville and Montgomery, was thwarted by city of Yorkville officials who argued that it would compete against Yorkville for development.

Hatcher said that any past movement to incorporate, or even a hint of Oswego or Montgomery seeking to annex property in Boulder Hill, has been dead on arrival.

“I remember [former Oswego Village President Jim] Detzler just kind of stuck his toe in the water to see if anyone would consider being annexed to Oswego,” she said. “Let me tell you, the folks in Boulder Hill are fiercely independent.”

Reflecting on that independence, Hatcher remembers Boulder Hill, during her first years living there, as a “social island.”

“I think that’s an important perspective to put under this,” she said. “It was mostly young families, and the majority of the people that lived there worked for Caterpillar or Western Electric or the FAA [control center]. None of us had much money, but we were all raising kids together.”

Hatcher recalled that, as a young mother, she didn’t need to drive to Oswego or Montgomery or Aurora to get the essentials.

“I didn’t have a car, but you could get everything you needed down at the Boulder Hill Market,” she said. “There were groceries, hardware, Select [Restaurant] was there. You didn’t have to leave that little ecosystem to thrive.”

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