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20 For 20 Retrospective

Annunciation Byzantine Church Master Plan

 

Prairie Restoration at Annunciation Byzantine Church Homer Glen 
OVERVIEW

Two distinctive features differentiate the Annunciation Byzantine Catholic Church in Homer Glen, Illinois from most houses of worship found in suburban Chicago. The first element is the brilliant onion-shaped dome that signifies the church’s eastern European heritage, and the second is that the old-world style church sits in the middle of a 10-acre reconstructed Illinois prairie and wetland system.

 

The “church in a prairie” as it is sometimes described, was constructed on a swath of undulating former farmland surrounded by rapidly developing suburban communities. A substantial amount of the land was an untillable stream and wetland corridor. At the time the new buildings were constructed, most of the church property was given over to typical turfgrass, paved asphalt roads and parking areas. An existing natural pond sits adjacent to the public street that serves as a major artery along the Will County and Cook County border.

 

Not long after the church opened its doors, it became apparent that issues with stormwater detention, surface runoff and seasonal flooding would continue to burden the parish with ongoing maintenance challenges and repetitive expense. As the lowest spot within the neighborhood, the pond would often fill with stormwater runoff during periods of rainfall and overflow onto Will-Cook Road, blocking traffic and causing damage. The church also looked to acquire an adjoining property constructed as a detention basin for the nearby housing development. Homeowners fearing suburban sprawl first opposed the land acquisition anticipating that development of the lot would pose additional flooding risk.

 

During that same time period, the Village of Homer Glen, with the motto “Community and Nature in Harmony”, set about charting a green vision for future development. Applying for and receiving a Green Communities Program Grant from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA), the Village conducted a number of workshops over a two-year period to explore alternatives to typical suburban sprawl. It was at one of these workshops where parish priest Father Thomas Loya learned of the innovative stormwater management and sustainable landscape practices developed by Conservation Design Forum.

 

Working together with the parish, community residents and the local government, CDF developed a multi-phase strategy and plan for the church property that would address their flooding issues, preserve the character of the land, and align with the church’s sacramental view of nature.

       Plan Approach:

The plan developed by CDF outlined a new vision for the church property that could be phased in over time as replacement cycles dictated. The measures included:
1. Removing turfgrass where steep slopes made the area unusable for pedestrians, and where wet soils made growing conditions inhospitable for turf. These areas would be planted with native species that thrived in moist conditions and were long-lived or reseeded themselves.
2. Re-grading of some areas as terraced gardens to slow erosion, and installing plants on the terraces that did not require mowing/mower access.
3. Creating gravel walking paths through the property to help connect the community, and provide wholesome outdoor recreation, areas for fishing, or quiet contemplation. The gravel material would allow rainwater to be re-absorbed on site.
4. Reserving areas on flat higher ground for large church events.
5. Creating a healthy ecosystem for native animals, amphibians and insects.
6. Utilizing sustainable methods for aerating the pond.
7. Creating spaces for outdoor art and religious iconography that brings the worship experience outdoors.
8. Renovating the detention area in a way that would appeal to adjacent homeowners (neat appearance) while improving permeability and usabilitiy.

 

During the planning process, CDF established an open dialogue with Father Loya, particularly in regard to development of the detention basin. The design approach needed to be sensitive to the institution and its character/values. CDF hosted a series of meetings with the church body to establish guidelines and priorities. The idea of a non-conventional type of landscape was foreign to most of the parishioners. Using examples of other projects, CDF explained the benefits of sustainable methods and materials, and discussed how the plan would fit with the church’s view and mission. Neighbors adjacent to the church property were invited to attend meetings and give their feedback.

 

The church has implemented a number of measures since the plan was developed in 2006. According to the master plan, the detention basin was lined with porous pavers to create a plaza and nature park now called Transfiguration Prairie. It is surrounded by terraced gardens filled with resilient native prairie plants.

 

The prairie restoration around the natural pond and other areas was implemented using plugs and seeds. It is now completely self-generating. Stewardship consist of annual controlled burns and just two site visits in the summer to monitor plant health and remove invasive species, greatly reducing landscape maintenance costs compared to turf maintenance and replacement.

 

A “meditation walk” meanders through the property punctuated with art installations that symbolize stories from the Bible. A 100-foot section of their access road was reconstructed with new culverts and a turn lane for safer ingress. With the plan’s holistic approach the water issues have been resolved. Stormwater runoff no longer spills onto Will-Cook Road resolving the traffic hazard for both counties.

 

In 2013 the church implemented the planting of the parking lot islands. Children from the vacation Bible school planted plugs provided by site management contractor Conservation Land Stewardship. Father Loya calls the ecological restoration “an inexhaustible source of learning and information.”

 

The church hosts regular activities on the property including their annual Prairie Fest in August and Christmas on the Prairie in December. A beekeeper has set up hives on the property where his bees feed off the native prairie plants. He harvests and sells the honey, donating a portion back to the church. Parishioners and members of the community utilize the church grounds day and evening; kids come out to play and fish here and neighbors can walk through the prairie to visit with the people on the other side. Father Loya has remarked that the re-design of the property and re-creation of the prairie habitat has changed the character of the community – bringing families and communities together. To see more images, visit our website: /Project?project_id=62

 

PROJECT FACTS

Size: 10-acre site, Parish size approximately 150 households

Program:
Completion: 2005
Recognition: Awards, News magazine special (Chicago Tours with Geoffrey Baer), and articles.
Project Team: Conservation Design Forum – lead consultant
Conservation Land Stewardship – maintenance

 

Awards:

2012 Homer Glen Community and Nature in Harmony Award

2006 Chicago Wilderness Excellence in Conservation Award

2008 Excellence in Protecting Our Water Environment Award – Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1N1-12537BDC9AF74260.html

 

Other Recognition:

http://www.homerglenil.org/Environment/GreenVisionHome.aspx

http://www.homerglenil.org/Environment/ChicagoWildernessAward2006/CWAwardApplication.pdf

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zH25aiRTE4o

http://www.wbez.org/story/news/houses-worship-go-green

http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/orland-park-homer-glen/community/chi-ugc-article-earth-day-arbor-day-saturday-may-18-h-2013-05-08-story.html

http://www.cnt.org/2010/06/04/green-infrastructure-can-be-divine/

http://www.examiner.com/article/from-pierogi-to-prayer-southside-prairie-fest-offers-everything

http://www.wbez.org/story/news/houses-worship-go-green

http://www.ncregister.com/site/article/let_there_be_ecological_light/

http://www.newstips.org/page/187/?vo=6

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Tags: stormwater detention, master plan, seasonal flooding, green vision, Illinois EPA, sustainable landscape, native plants, porous pavement, prairie restoration, controlled burn,

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