State Rep. Larry Walsh Jr., D-Elwood, has proposed a law that could force the NorthPoint warehouse project to referendum.
House Bill 5727 would allow residents to petition for referendum to block a controversial annexation once it is approved by a village board.
Whether the bill would ever be put into effect against the NorthPoint project depends on a number of factors, including whether it becomes law, when the governor would sign it, and if the Elwood Village Board approves the annexation that NorthPoint wants.
NorthPoint is seeking a land annexation into Elwood for its plans to develop what ultimately could be 2,200 acres of warehouse space. The annexation has not yet been considered by the Village Board but received preliminary approval by the Elwood Plan Commission in January after a public hearing that lasted three nights to accommodate the number of speakers against the project.
Walsh said his proposed bill was motivated by “people speaking against a project and village officials not listening. People have reached out to my office and asked what I could do.”
The bill already is being rewritten because of “pretty stiff opposition,” primarily from municipal officials, Walsh said.
“But at the end of the day, I’m trying to give the people I represent a voice,” he said.
Walsh said the bill was also motivated by a controversial annexation vote in Joliet in December that was opposed by neighbors of a site proposed for two million-square-foot warehouses at Route 53 and Breen Road.
Walsh and Jackson Township officials joined residents in opposing both the Joliet and NorthPoint annexations.
The Illinois Municipal League on Monday posted HB 5727 on a list of “Weekly Bills of Concern” in the “Statehouse Briefing” on its website.
The Will County Governmental League, an association of municipalities, is against the bill, and local officials are writing letters of opposition.
“The governmental league represents municipalities. We oppose anytime there’s legislation that restricts municipal authority,” league Executive Director Hugh O’Hara said.
O’Hara said annexations already go through plan commissions and village boards with public hearings along the way.
“We have a lot of concern that it could slow down economic development in our communities,” he said.
Walsh said Tuesday that the bill will not go forward in its present form.
One change he plans to make is to increase the number of signatures required for a petition referendum to 50 percent of voters in the last municipal election. The bill now only requires 10 percent.
“If there’s that big of an opposing force against an annexation and you get 50 percent,” Walsh said, “that’s telling the municipality that what you’re doing is not copacetic with your residents and should be reevaluated.”