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NorthPoint renews push for 851-acre business park near Elwood, heads to Will County Board

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After its plans for a large warehouse and distribution center were rejected by Elwood village officials, NorthPoint Development is making another attempt to get its Compass Business Park built along Route 53 in Jackson Township. Company officials filed an application Tuesday to rezone 670 acres for industrial use.
The only difference between the company's proposal to Elwood and the new one it's bringing to Will County's is the acreage, NorthPoint spokesman Scott Burnham said in an email.
Since NorthPoint owns 181 acres in Elwood, which is already zoned for industrial use, it only needs the county to approve rezoning for the remaining 670 unincorporated acres, Burnham said, adding that the Elwood land is part of Compass Business Park. NorthPoint also is prepared to provide its own water and sewer infrastructure to serve the development, he said.
Northpoint originally had proposed to build its 851-acre Compass Business Park through an annexation agreement with Elwood, which sparked outrage from area residents.
Following a series of contentious public hearings the village's Planning and Zoning Commission recommended rezoning the agricultural land to an industrial use in January but a hearing on the annexation agreement in April was canceled by Elwood Mayor Doug Jenco, citing a lack of village board support.
"It's like a toothache," Jenco said Tuesday. "It's never going to go away it seems."
"We don't want them," he said, repeating himself to stress the point. "We do not want them."
Will County Executive Larry Walsh, D-Jackson Township, whose family continues to farm in the area, previously spoke against the project, claiming it would "decimate what is left of Jackson Township as a community, as an agricultural township."
He could not be reached for comment this week, but his chief of staff Nick Palmer said it is not about being for or against a development, but making sure it is in the right location, where it will not be a detriment to the community.
The county spent millions on a Community Friendly Freight Mobility Study to address responsible development and quality of life issues, Palmer said.
"We want a postive environment for economic development," he said.
The application submitted Tuesday was incomplete and it could be a few months before the first public meeting is scheduled, he said.
County board Speaker Jim Moustis, R-Frankfort Township, agreed.
The county does not see industrial developments of this size very often, because they usually go into municipalities, he said.
"We will take a hard look at it, at the impacts. It will take some time for staff to do an analysis. A lot of questions have to be asked," Moustis said, adding it will be a "very open process."
If Elwood files a legal objection to NorthPoint's latest request, it would require a supermajority – or 20 of 26 votes – to get the development passed by the county board, officials said.
It's going to be "tough" to get 20 votes, Moustis said, adding that the board does not often overrule a legal objection.
Meanwhile, NorthPoint officials continue to tout the benefits they believe their development will bring to the area. "Compass Business Park is an important piece of this region's economic growth. It will bring thousands of new jobs to the area while meeting the demands of expanding intermodal facilities that serve the online retail boom," said Patrick Robinson, NorthPoint vice president of development, in a press release issued Tuesday.
The proposed business park would generate "millions of dollars in new revenue for Will County and the state" and add approximately 1,000 annual construction jobs during development and 2,400 to 5,000 full-time, permanent positions, according to the release.
"Will County and the greater Chicago region is one of the nation's critical supply-chain hubs for the new economy that is transforming how American consumers purchase retail goods," Robinson said.
Union members have been among the few who have supported the project.
"Compass Business Park is the kind of economic boost this county needs and would create thousands of jobs for working families," said Doc Gregory, president of the Will and Grundy Counties Building Trades Council. "Given the area's economy and need for skilled union labor, we must take advantage of opportunities that put our residents to work and spur economic development in our communities."
County board member Don Moran, D-Romeoville, who also is a union official, called Compass Business Park a "good project."
"There will not be as much impact on people as they think," he said, adding that the truck traffic would go through the existing intermodal park and not on local roads.
NorthPoint's first proposal included building a bridge for truck traffic over Route 53, from CenterPoint Intermodal Center into its Compass Business Park, but it is unclear if that is still in the plan.
Herb Brooks, the county board's Democratic minority leader from Joliet, said it is "too early" to make a decision.
He said he attended previous hearings on the proposal and has heard both sides.
"I would be interested in hearing what Don Gould and Debbie Militello (county board members who represent Jackson Township) have to say. Their comments are valuable," Brooks said.
Gould, R-Shorewood, said he remains opposed to the development.
"I have gone to all the hearings and the sentiment of the citizens is that they are overwhelmingly opposed to it," he said.
Gould said the area has "some very serious truck traffic problems," and this proposed warehouse project "would be very harmful to Elwood and the surrounding area."
Militello, R-Chanahon, said she will "weigh all the facts" before making a decision.
"Everybody gets their day in court," she said. "This will be a long process and an open process."
She acknowledged that this has been a "very emotional issue," but she wants to keep "an open mind" about it.
"I have to hear the facts from both sides. I can't form an opinion without the facts," Militello said.
Mayor Jenco encouraged county board members to take a drive through Elwood on Route 53 to see the impact warehouse developments have had on the area.
"They need to take a real close hard look," he said. "Anyone who drives these roads, it's absolutely terrible. The roads are falling apart," he said. "They're backed up with traffic, you can't even get through (on Route 53) from I-80 to Laraway Road."
Jenco pointed to empty warehouses in the region, adding that the county does not need any more warehousing projects. He noted a 1 million square-foot warehouse sits empty on Route 53 near Elwood along with other warehouses near I-55.
"I don't see the need for more warehouses," he said.

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