Elwood files lawsuit against Joliet's warehouse plans

WALTER STRAWN DRIVE was closed at the railroad track and Route 53, but a plan between the City of Joliet and East Gate Logistics would call for a new bridge to be constructed at the site, reconnecting Walter Strawn with Ira Morgan Street in Elwood. The village has filed for an injunction against Joliet to void the pre-annexation agreement the city made with East Gate in April.

Marney Simon

The village of Elwood is asking the courts for relief from the city of Joliet's plans to expand upon its warehouse industrial area.

On June 16, the village filed a complaint for declaratory judgment and injunctive relief against the City of Joliet and East Gate Logistics Park with the Twelfth Juridical Circuit in Will County.

The filing alleges that the City of Joliet failed to follow the proper procedures to provide legal notice to the public prior to hearings held before the approval of a pre-annexation agreement between Joliet and East Gate, and further, that moving ahead with that annexation and its approved plans would adversely affect Elwood.

The village of Elwood is asking the court to find that pre-annexation agreement void, and to prohibit the City of Joliet from annexing, rezoning and granting the special use permit pursuant to that agreement.

The agreement would require East Gate to build a bridge over Route 53 at Walter Strawn Drive within the Village of Elwood. Such construction, the lawsuit states, would force Elwood to become responsible for maintenance and repairs on village owned roads due to additional, heavy truck traffic. It would also make Elwood responsible for maintaining the bridge.

In April, the Joliet City Council approved the agreement with East Gate for the eventual annexation of 1,262 acres of unincorporated land into Joliet. Per the filing, the rules for the pre-annexation hearing held by Joliet's Plan Commission on Feb. 24 were not properly published.

According to the lawsuit, the Plan Commission placed no time restrictions on East Gate for their portion of the presentation. But, when it came time for public comment, people were abruptly cut off after four minutes, and were prohibited from asking any questions. Per the filing, at least one person was even escorted away from the lectern by the Joliet Police Department after they continued to speak after four minutes.

The lawsuit also alleges that public participation during additional hearings held on April 13-17, which were held remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, was hampered by the city of Joliet. Participants who were speaking over the phone were allegedly cut off once their four minutes were over, the city disconnecting them from the line as they spoke.

A request by Julia Baum Coldwater for extra time to speak was refused. Coldwater was participating via telephone during the April hearings, the lawsuit states.

"Mrs. Coldwater specifically stated the interest that she had in the public hearing due to the proximity of the development to her residence," the filing states. "Mrs. Coldwater stated the difficulty she had in presenting without the help of visual evidence. Mrs. Coldwater specifically requested more time of the City Council. The City Council did not entertain Mrs. Coldwater's request for more time pursuant to the procedures the City of Joliet posted. Mrs. Coldwater was abruptly cut off during her presentation."

Following that testimony, Joliet city attorney Martin Shanahan and Mayor Bob O'Dekirk noted that the public could send in comments to be added to the record if the four minutes was not enough time.

Per Elwood's filing, "...This procedure discussed between Mayor O'Dekirk and Mr. Shanahan is contrary to the procedures the City of Joliet published before the hearing. The discussion between Mayor O'Dekirk and Mr. Shanahan demonstrates that the City Council preemptively chose not to follow the guidelines it published before the public hearing.

"Aside from not following its own published procedures, the alternative procedure articulated by Mr. Shanahan undermines a public hearing, because the public cannot see what Mr. Shanahan emails to the City Council, defeating the 'public' portion of the hearing," the lawsuit continues.

Elwood village administrator Julie Friebele also participated during those additional hearings, requesting additional time to speak and to ask questions of witnesses. That request was also denied.

"Administrator Friebele's presentation was abruptly cut off as she was attempting to read a letter from [Joliet City Manager] Steve Jones into the public record," the lawsuit states.

The village claims that Joliet's "four minute rule" for public comment "deprived interested parties of due process in that it did not allow for adequate cross-examination of the applicant and proponents of the... permit."

The filing also alleges that the published agenda for the Plan Commission meeting was legally insufficient to consider rezoning and granting of a special use permit.

Village officials said they're asking for the injunction because the plans themselves pose a direct threat to the Elwood.

"The agreement, specifically the proposed rezoning of the annexed land and the granting of special use permit to East Gate would substantially, directly, and adversely affect the village of Elwood," Village President Doug Jenco said in a news release. "...The purpose of the lawsuit is to have the Court determine whether or not the City of Joliet followed the proper legal procedures concerning the agreement and the contemplated rezoning of land and granting a special use permit."

The complaint has been set for its first case management in Will County Court on Oct. 5, 2020.