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Local News

Elwood, locals try to move past contentious time

Village still has to deal with debt, lawsuits

Elwood Village President Doug Jenco calls for public comment at a Village Bboard meeting on April 4 in Elwood.
Elwood Village President Doug Jenco calls for public comment at a Village Bboard meeting on April 4 in Elwood.

Although Elwood Village President Doug Jenco appeared to have dealt a big blow to NorthPoint’s plans for a more than 2,000-acre industrial park, some locals aren’t resting easy just yet.

The village of Elwood announced April 17 that Jenco canceled a public hearing on the annexation agreement scheduled for April 23 after speaking to village trustees individually and asking about their support for the project.

Although this action essentially stopped hopes a for Compass Business Park to move forward for the time being, there technically still was a possibility it could be revived.

NorthPoint’s next moves

Just Say No to NorthPoint leader Stephanie Irvine said she and her partners will stay vigilant because they do not see this ordeal as being completely over. NorthPoint Development still owns about 176 acres in the village of Elwood.

“This is a billion-dollar company that has invested a lot of time and a lot of money [into the project],” Irvine said. “And I don’t see them just walking away.”

Irvine said that there are a couple of different things that could happen to officially kill the prospects for Compass Business Park. Either the board needs to officially vote against the agreement, or the recommendation from the Planning and Zoning Commission has to expire.

The Village Board voted to extend the life of the recommendation in March, which means it will not expire until Sept. 14. If the recommendation does expires, the project cannot come up for a vote to the full board.

Boundary agreement
with Manhattan

One of the major developments through this whole process was when the village of Manhattan sued Elwood and the companies associated with the project in March, claiming it had been cut out of negotiations on the deal.

The lawsuit asked the Circuit Court of Will County to stop the project and declare a violation of the boundary agreement between the two municipalities. Manhattan Village Administrator Kevin Sing said at the time the lawsuit was announced that the village had not taken a position on the project, but also that it could not make a determination because village officials were not at the table.

Although the Compass Business Park appears to have halted, the legal team for Manhattan said it still is moving forward.

“We will continue to evaluate our position relative to the lawsuit and to seek clarification of Elwood’s intentions regarding the Compass Business Park,” Jeff Taylor, attorney for the village of Manhattan, said in a written statement. “We still believe that Elwood has violated the boundary agreement and joint resolution. Nevertheless, I believe that if Elwood agrees to extend the Elwood/Manhattan boundary agreement, it will go a long way in helping to resolve matters.”

Village debt

People on both sides of the argument acknowledge that Elwood still has a debt problem, with about $26 million in municipal bonds due in the coming years.

Elwood Village Administrator Marian Gibson said that the debt came about at least in part because there were some projects that the village anticipated being able to pay for with growth.

“The growth just didn’t happen,” Gibson said.

Gibson added that the village has been looking at backup plans to bring more industry to the village. Elwood also will be looking to refinance its loans, and CenterPoint’s TIF is expiring in 2023.

But locals still were interested in coming together to come up with a resolution to the debt problem.

“It’s still relatively early,” Gibson said. “We want to make sure that we’re looking at all the options that we can to minimize it.”

Gibson’s future

One of the demands in the petition that earned more than 630 signatures from Elwood residents was for the board to terminate Gibson.

A number of anti-Compass Business Park locals pointed to her as the person in the village government responsible for bringing NorthPoint to town. But Gibson responded by saying it is a part of her job description to help bring new businesses to the village.

“It’s my job to work with them,” Gibson said. “To come up with the best negotiated deal with the village.”

Gibson added that she did not know about the possibility of Compass Business Park coming to Elwood before she became village administrator. She said that the ultimate decision was with the board.

But locals and those with the Just Say No to NorthPoint group still argue that the way in which the process played out regarding the project still doesn’t sit well with them. Many of them thought the continual lack of response from village trustees during board meetings about the project was frustrating, and multiple people complained of not getting responses when they specifically reached out to trustees.

“It’s massive, and nobody had a clue as to what was going on until this got leaked online,” Irvine said. “It should have never been that way.”

NorthPoint Development did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

 

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