JOLIET – One old bridge makes it possible for the Zaffinos to operate their construction business, and Joliet wants to abandon it.
"You say you're going to vacate the bridge so it's my problem," William Zaffino told the Joliet Plan Commission last week. "I guess we'll see you in court."
The bridge takes a remote section of Old Richards Street over Hickory Creek to an otherwise isolated spot of land that contains Zaffino's construction business, Geomat Inc. and MPV, an auto wholesaler. Zaffino has four business tenants in his building.
The short stretch of Old Richards Street was cut off when Interstate 80 was built, leading to a realignment creating the Richards Street that exists today.
Fixing the bridge would cost about $2 million, Interim City Attorney Chris Regis said.
"It no longer serves the public interest to maintain it," Regis told the plan commission at its meeting on Thursday.
The commission agreed, voting 6-2 to vacate the bridge.
The plan to abandon the bridge goes back to at least 2003, according to a city letter that was addressed to the Zaffinos' engineer that year when they were building on the property. The city has a copy of the letter, although the Zaffinos contend they and their engineer never saw it.
The matter will go to the Joliet City Council, likely in December, for a final decision.
"I feel like I've been punched in the chest," Peggy Zaffino told the commission. "What are we supposed to do? Just walk away with all of that debt and all that we invested in that business?"
The Zaffinos have a lawsuit pending against the city.
They contend that the city over the years has issued building permits for them to expand the business without notifying them of intentions to eventually vacate the bridge.
MPV also has an attorney, Andy Boyer, who made his case to the commission.
"I know you didn't build the bridge, but you made it part of your city," Boyer said. "You made a commitment. You have to honor that commitment."
Regis said the bridge has a plaque on it indicating it was originally built by Will County. As to when Joliet took ownership, he does not know. Nor does he know when the city last maintained it.
The bridge apparently has been deteriorating.
The Zaffinos bought their property 15 years ago when the bridge had a 40-ton weight limit, Peggy said. In 2012, the weight limit was downgraded to 15 tons.
The 2003 city letter mentions the need to develop a new access out of the property. Regis said the city is willing to help the property owners do that.
The Illinois Department of Transportation so far has rejected the idea because of the proximity of Old Richards Street to I-80 interchange ramps, saying it is too close and would pose a safety hazard.