Joliet staff members are working on an alternative tax on trucking facilities and new zoning requirements for gas stations.
Both measures are aimed at issues that have been at the center of local debate in recent years.
Residents objecting to new warehouses regularly point to the effects of trucks on local roads. And plans for large gas stations have drawn neighbors and others objecting to potential traffic and other perceived problems.
The Joliet City Council Legislative and Land Use Committee last week heard from staff on plans now under review that could come to the council for approval in the future.
The alternative tax on trucking facilities is called Payment in Lieu of Taxes and goes by the acronym PILOT.
It’s being proposed for truck terminals and semitrailer parking facilities that generate truck traffic but not the property tax dollars produced by large warehouse operations.
Large warehouses can be big property tax producers, city economic development specialist Derek Conley told the Legislative and Land Use Committee on Thursday.
He pointed to the Mars candy warehouse, which has one of the highest annual property tax bills in the city at almost $1.6 million.
But the city is seeing a growing number of truck terminals and parking areas, which generate a fraction of the tax dollars while putting trucks on local roads, he said.
“In a sense, it’s like they’re contributing to the problem but not paying the full amount as the other uses,” Conley said.
The average warehouse generates almost $2,045 an acre in property taxes, he said. That’s more than truck terminals, which have smaller structures for loading and unloading, and generate an average of $1,089 an acre. Truck parking lots, which may have no buildings at all, have annual tax bills of just under $638 an acre.
Conley proposed the PILOT program in which terminals would pay a substitute tax of $956 an acre and parking facilities would pay the alternative tax at $1,407 an acre. The amounts would be aimed at generating the same tax revenue off the property that would be produced by warehouses.
The plan would be to put the money directly into the Public Works Department so it would only be used for road maintenance, Conley said.
Questions were raised about the PILOT proposal at the committee meeting. Local attorney Michael Hansen, who represents land developers, said PILOT programs typically are used to collect revenue from nonprofits, including hospitals, that do not pay property taxes. He questioned whether the same system could be used to collect more revenue from truck terminals and parking lots.
Jackson Township Assessor Delilah Legrett questioned whether PILOT payments could be cited as business costs by property owners to lower property tax assessments.
“Then where are we at?” she asked.
Legrett, however, said her office also is taking a look at truck parking facilities, which, she said, are in high demand and underassessed.
Gas station zoning
Joliet zoning rules for gas stations were adopted in 1968 when “the typical auto service station was a small building with one or two employees and a small fuel canopy with fewer than four fuel pumps,” according to a staff memo on a review of those zoning requirements.
Staff members are working on new rules designed for today’s gas stations that are larger operations with more outdoor activity capable of creating noise that carries into the surrounding neighborhood.
“You’re aware we’ve had some pretty controversial zoning cases involving gas stations,” Director of Planning Mike Schwarz told the committee.
The most recent case was a Speedway gas station with a truck fueling area planned for Jefferson Street and Houbolt Road. The city plan commission voted it down in August after hearing opposition from residents.
One of the biggest controversies of 2018 was the approval of a Love’s Travel Stop truck stop at Interstate 80 and Briggs Street.
Schwarz said the planning department is reconsidering Joliet zoning rules that allow gas stations in all business districts. Other communities typically allow gas stations in certain business districts but not in others.
He said the planning department also may ask the City Council to consider requiring gas station operators to get special use permits, which would allow the city to set certain conditions for operation.
Schwarz said that modern gas stations are equipped with car vacuums, video screens with sound at pumps and other outdoor operations.
“Most of the activity is actually outside the building,” he said. “That could have an impact on adjacent properties.”