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Council to vote on controversial auto salvage yard Tuesday

Karen Sorensen | 9/11/2014, 9:23 a.m.
If the Joliet City Council votes to file an objection to rezoning the I-80/New Lenox site to industrial, the Will ...
A "pull-and-go" auto salvage yard allows customers to strip the parts they want from cars that are set up on 12-inch stands.

A controversial "pull and go" auto salvage yard proposed for land off Interstate 80 and New Lenox Road will go to the Joliet City Council next week without a recommendation from the land use and legislative committee.

The business, proposed by former salvage yard owner Jim Thompson, would allow customers to pay a $2 entrance fee to have access to anywhere from 1,000 to 1,200 cars from which they can strip and pay for auto parts, lawyer Mike Hansen said.

The site would be screened by berms and trees on all four sides, and would not be visible from the road or the interstate, Hansen said. All fluids would be drained from the vehicles before they're placed on 12-inch stands, and monitoring wells would be installed to ensure there is no groundwater contamination, he said.

"These types of facilities have changed radically over the years," Hansen said. "This is not the old typical junkyard we're all used to from the '50s and '60s."

Wednesday, however, was the first time the three-member committee had heard of the project, which angered Councilman Jim McFarland. He said he would not vote on anything so controversial without first being allowed to read the nearly 60 pages of documents he was given Wednesday and review the staff's opinion on the matter.

The site is technically in unincorporated Joliet, and while it might one day be annexed into the city, the Will County Board has the final say on rezoning the site from agriculture to heavy industrial.

So far, the county's planning and zoning commission and the county board's land use and development committee have voted that the full county board reject the zoning change when it comes up Thursday.

The city council is allowed to weigh in on the matter because the location is within a mile and a half of the Joliet border. If the council files an objection to the rezoning, the county board must pass the measure with a two-thirds vote rather than a simple majority.

City staff members made it clear they do not support the project.

The site's high-profile location with visibility from the I-80 corridor makes the land too valuable for use as an auto salvage yard, said Jim Haller, the city's director of community and economic development.

"We've always envisioned this area to be commercial around the interchange," Haller said. "To us, (the proposal) makes no sense. Why would you settle for something that would pay $70,000 in property taxes when you could get something that could pay hundreds of thousands?"

Corporation counsel Jeff Plyman said companies are willing to pay top dollar to have visibility from a major interstate like I-80.

"This is a very valuable and special property," Plyman said. "There's not very much of it (in our area), and you have to protect it. ... You don't want to permanently commit it to something you have to hide."

Mark Carlson, whose Carlson Construction Co. is located down the road from the proposed site, said the city would be foolish to allow such a low-level use on land that could one day be home to a corporate headquarters.

"This is the front door of Joliet," Carlson said. "It's not a matter of if (a high-profile user will emerge), it's a matter of when. ... Companies want that visibility."

But Will County Board member Herb Brooks said there are many things the city might want, but may never get. The auto salvage business is here now, and willing to not only hire local employees but invest in the community, he said.

"I would like to see (the salvage yard) built," said Brooks, who represents the district where it would be located. He added that fellow District 8 board member, Denise Winfrey, feels the same.

The Joliet City Council will discuss the issue at its Tuesday meeting, and must decide that night if it will weigh in on the rezoning or not.

Contact Karen Sorensen at Karen@TheTimesWeekly.com.