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Industrial park proposal takes step forward as Lockport residents voice dismay

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017 2:01 p.m. CST • Updated: Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017 10:44 p.m. CST

LOCKPORT – A controversial 200-acre industrial park planned in the center of five residential subdivisions will be able to make its case in front of the Lockport City Council despite the concerns voiced by outraged area residents, including the owner of a long-standing wildlife rescue ranch.

The city's planning and zoning commission, in a 5-1 vote Tuesday night, agreed to recommend to the city council a modified concept plan presented by Prologis for an industrial park, with five buildings totaling about 2 million square feet, located along the west side of Interstate 355 between 151st and 143rd streets. 

The proposed park would stretch to Archer Avenue and is bordered by the 30-year-old Big Run Wolf Ranch and four Lockport subdivisions to the south and the Lockport Heights subdivision in unincorporated Will County to the north.

Commissioners told the residents present that, since industrial zoning for the property has been in place in various stages since 1970, with the last of it completed in 2014, the commission had no choice but to accommodate the owners' rights to present a project for their property. 

The city could face litigation from the property owners if it decides to deny the petition, City Attorney Tom Thanas said in an interview after the meeting.

Commissioner Jim Bilotta, who is a resident of the Creekside subdivision, was the single dissenting vote. Commissioner Dave Oxley was absent. 

The issue had been tabled at the commission's Nov. 8 meeting due to resident opposition, and since then the developers have made modifications to the concept plan in an effort to address the concerns of residents. 

These include making some of the buildings smaller and increasing the buffer yardage above the city code requirement to increase distance from residences — especially the wolf ranch – as well as increasing the height of berms and cedar fencing to minimize sound and lighting intrusion, according to a presentation by Prologis representative Jim McGill.

According to McGill, smaller buildings would generally house smaller businesses, which would lead to less truck traffic, especially at night.

If the city council chooses to allow the project to continue, the company will need to pass a number of hurdles before construction can take place. These include presenting a detailed plan in order to get a planned unit development permit from the city and getting approval from state environmental protection agencies.

Commissioner Lance Thies said that the PUD process gives the city flexibility to attach its own conditions with approval of the project.

Commissioner Brent Porfilio made the passing motion to add a number of provisions to the proposal, including relocation of an emergency road that currently runs through the property toward the residential areas and communication with the Illinois Department of Transportation for a possible widening of Archer Avenue from a two-lane to a four-lane street.

The concept plan will be presented next to the city council's committee of the whole at its regular Feb. 1 meeting.

The vote came after McGill presented the plan and numerous residents— including ranch owner John Basile — pleaded with the commission to reject the project.  

The mood was tense and contentious throughout the 3 1/2 hour meeting as more than 50 residents in the packed City Hall boardroom cheered on the dissenting speakers and yelled out their displeasure while the commissioners and Prologis representatives spoke.

McGill said that the company takes the residents' concerns very seriously and that Prologis "doesn’t want any issues."

"If we make mistakes, our tenants won't come here," he said.

Basile told the commission that he has been told by experts to "shut down" because emissions and noise from truck traffic would create fatal health issues for the 21 animals on the ranch.

"My bear will have to be euthanized," Basile told the commission. "If he goes down and I push that button, for animal rights groups, we will have a lot of problems."

Other residents expressed concerns about the effect increased truck activity and diesel fumes may have on the safety and health of children, the elderly and those suffering from asthma, as well as the possibility of falling property values.

"This is my child's life, my life, probably the biggest investment of my life," said 26-year-old Joshua Molinski.

Some residents, like Brad Goebbert and Ken Krupa, told the commission that if the project moves forward they would move out of the city.

Billotta told residents that, while he wished the project would go away, he knew that was not possible.

"This is zoned, they have a right to build," he said. "Now the question is: If this moves forward, how do we mitigate the damage?"

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