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Battle over NorthPoint rages on

By Rex Robinson | 4/22/2020, 11:23 a.m.
While the Joliet City Council has taken the first step toward bringing a controversial business park proposal to fruition, some ...
Prior to the Coronavirus crisis, residents would pack the Joliet City Hall chambers to voice their opinions both for and against the NorthPoint development. (file photo)

While the Joliet City Council has taken the first step toward bringing a controversial business park proposal to fruition, some community groups vehemently opposed to it plan to continue their fight.

The City Council on Friday voted 6-3 in favor of the pre-annexation agreement for NorthPoint Development. The vote came after a public hearing that lasted four days and included comments or e-mails from nearly 300 residents.

Meanwhile, members of Just Say No To NorthPoint, Warehouse Workers for Justice and other groups opposing the development plan to eventually head back into court to attempt to get the vote nullified on the basis that the meeting violated the Open Meetings Act.

They discussed their ongoing legal fight with the city over the proposal during a virtual press conference held Tuesday.

“We’re going to continue to fight through whatever means we have,” said Roberto Clack, executive director of the Warehouse Workers for Justice. “When this pandemic is over with, we’re going to be door knocking more than ever.”

Matt Topic, a civil rights attorney representing the groups, attempted to file an injunction order in Will County Circuit Court to stop the Joliet City Council from moving forward with the public hearing and subsequent pre-annexation vote. However, the judge ruled against the group and said while the council’s move to hold the public hearing last week during a national crisis when a stay-at-home order was in place was “shady” he determined it was not illegal.

Topic’s next move is to head back to court, likely sometime in July, to attempt to get the pre-annexation vote annulled. He said he will argue that the public hearing still failed to comply with the Open Meetings Act and should thus be declared null and void.

Despite the council’s hearing from hundreds of people by phone over a four-day period last week, 15 percent of the residents, according to Topic, do not have access to the internet at home and thus were “shut out of the meeting.” Also, he added, the meeting adjourned and resumed a number of times and mostly was held during the day when many people were at work. If your number was called to comment and you were at work you lost your chance to be heard. Based on those arguments, Topic said he is confident he has a good case against the city.

“The Open Meetings Act requires strict compliance,” he said.

John Sheridan, with the Cunningham Neighborhood Council, and Megan Cooper, with the South Side Initiative, both said Joliet has enough warehouses already.

Cooper said what’s needed for residents of Joliet’s South Side is more retail, like a grocery store and a pharmacy. “These warehouses have been rammed down our throats,” she said. “This needs to stop. We need diversity and economic development on the south side.”

NorthPoint Devlopment wants Joliet to annex 1,260 acres a half-mile south of Breen Raod and east of Chicago Road to develop the business park. Many other steps requiring approvals by the City Council would need to happen before the development gets underway.

The next step for NorthPoint is to seek final annexation, either in part or in whole, from the Joliet City Council. The land is currently in unincorporated Jackson Township.

O’Dekirk has defended the NorthPoint project and said it is “part of the evolution happening throughout that region - process which started 20 years ago.” He added that it will create thousands of new jobs and pour hundreds of millions of dollars into the local economy.

Pat Robinson, vice president of acquisitions for NorthPoint, has said Compass Park would consist of a mix of warehousing, light assembly and possibly some manufacturing. The project, he added, would result in 1,600 union construction jobs and another 4,500 permanent jobs and $18 million annually in property taxes for Joliet and other taxing bodies. “We try to align ourselves with quality companies, that pair a fair wage,” he said at the start of the public hearing last week.

The development, he added, will be the company's “nicest park yet,” providing improved infrastructure including everything from a bridge over Illinois 53 to alleviate truck traffic on city streets to providing tax money for the city, a $2 million donation to the city, bike and walking paths connecting to existing nature preserves, such as Mediwin National Tallgrass Prairie, and other incentives.

O’Dekirk has said that while traffic and infrastructure remain a concern he is happy with Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s commitment of more than $1.3 billion to the Joliet region for the long needed improvements to I-80, the numerous interchanges, and the Houbolt Road bridge which will help alleviate traffic.

“Tax revenue raised through private investment is what every city strives for,” he said. “It allows us to provide the services our citizens deserve without raising taxes. This especially helps working families, poorer residents and seniors or people on fixed incomes.”

Sheridan, on Tuesday, said with the impact the coronavirus is having on the economy, the chances are slim for the state to commit $1.3 billion for the bridge and other infrastructure necessary to bring the development to fruition

“The state is flat broke,” he said. “It’s not going to happen.”

Members of the two groups plan to hold a press conference Tuesday morning to lay out their next step toward stopping the city from moving forward with the development. Their hope is to get the vote annulled and get a “fair and open meeting”

Councilman Larry Hug, who voted with the majority in favor of the agreement, said he spent months fully researching and vetting the project. “I’ve listened to all sides and anyone who wanted to give me input. While not an easy decision, all things considered, my ‘yes’ vote was the right decision,” he said.