City waives sidewalks, street lights requirement for new development

Brock A. Stein | 5/2/2018, 1:24 p.m.
During his years of working in city government, Joliet City Manager David Hales said that he’s found that the best ...
The Joliet City Council Photo by Brock A. Stein

During his years of working in city government, Joliet City Manager David Hales said that he’s found that the best way for pedestrians to get around is on a sidewalk.

“I’ve seen fatalities,” said Hales during Monday night’s pre-council meeting.

“You don’t want both youth and adults walking in the street, especially at night,” he said, “The safest place for them to walk even if it’s for a portion of a block is on a sidewalk.”

Hales made his comments during a discussion with the city council ahead of Tuesday night’s city council meeting when the council voted unanimously to grant a waiver to Redeem Church of god in Christ at the construction site of a new church at 1040 S. Rowell Ave.

Under the waiver granted by the city council, the church will not have to install public sidewalks or public street lighting.

In March, the council approved a $3.5 million sales tax rebate plan for the new 7-acre home for Hawk Motors that also waived requirements to install sidewalks along Caton Farm Road but kept in place sidewalk installation along Route 59.

Under previous city managers, Hales said that he was told that developers looking for a waiver of public improvements would often get approved by the city manager’s office. Hales said that he was looking to bring more consistency to the process however, and was asking for more guidance from the city council.

Following a review, Hales said that city ordinance doesn’t in fact give him the power to waive the public improvements for construction projects something the city council is called to do after the matter is considered by the city’s zoning board of appeals.

“The thing that sometimes happens is inconsistency,” he said of the process that was in place before his tenure.

Waiving the requirements now, said Hales, could result in tax payers footing the bill if the improvements need to be made later.

“Unfortunately over my career we often times say that a sidewalk is not needed,” said Hales.

Hales said that he’s seen other government bodies embrace the principal of having “new growth pay its own way.”

He said that putting in the sidewalk and lighting later could be more disruptive to the area and ultimately be more costly.

“The best time to put in new improvements especially sidewalks, curb and gutter is at the time of development,” said Hales.

“If the applicant, new growth, doesn’t pay for it, who does?,” he asked, adding, “and usually that ends up being the tax payer.”

City council member Jan Quillman on Monday asked whether waiving the sidewalk requirement would expose the city or the church to legal action if a pedestrian is injured or killed. City attorney Martin Shanahan said that most likely both entities would be sued but that the city may have some legal immunity under Illinois law.

Howard Wright, a representative of the church said that the group applied for permits in January with the understanding that the sidewalk and street light requirements would be waived. Money for the project has been budgeted and spent at this stage as the group prepares to start construction, he said.

He said that the church will be set back far enough that congregants will not use the public sidewalk and will have sufficient lighting from the church’s parking lot.

“We’ve spent our monies at this point,” said Wright, “because some promises were made.”

“It’s really disparaging for us.”