The Joliet City Council modified its Lake Michigan water plan to put the Chicago option on a par with building the city’s own pipeline to Indiana.
The vote, which sets on course work to develop a new source of city water for coming decades, has been described as the most important decision for Joliet in this century. But it was one of several controversial items that kept the council busy Tuesday,
In other matters, the council:
• Approved a deal that saves the 19th-century Casseday House while giving a future Thorntons gas station a unique license allowing liquor sales and gambling;
• Rejected local landmark status for St. Mary Carmelite Church downtown, relying instead on a restrictive covenant designed to prevent demolition of the building;
• Went into closed session at the end of the meeting to hear a report from law firm Ancel Glink, which has investigated ethics complaints by a police sergeant against Mayor Bob O’Dekirk and council member Jan Quillman.
The council vote on water plans changes slightly the recommendation it received from the Environmental Commission, which recommended that Joliet pursue an Indiana pipeline as Plan A and consider buying water from the city of Chicago as Plan B.
Even under that proposal, Joliet planned to continue negotiating with Chicago as a potential supplier in case the Indiana plan fell through.
“I’d like to see us investigate both options simultaneously,” council member Sherri Reardon said as she introduced an amendment to do so.
Utilities Director Allison Swisher said the recommendation was “a good approach to keep the options open.”
Building the pipeline to Indiana is estimated to cost between $900 million and $1.1 billion. Infrastructure costs to connect with Chicago as a supplier are estimated at between $500 million and $600 million.
But Swisher has said Joliet would save money in the long run by building its own system because it would not be dependent on a supplier to get its water.
Council member Larry Hug, who voted against the Reardon amendment, said Joliet would lose control of its water supply if it buys from Chicago.
“Once you’re a customer, you’re always a customer,” Hug said.
Despite the enormity of the water project, plans for a new Thorntons gas station at Collins and Jackson streets drew more public comments at the meeting.
Preservationists for months have been pushing for an arrangement to save the 19th-century, limestone Casseday House, which sits on the gas station site, from demolition.
The deal worked out by the city provides Thorntons with liquor and video gaming licenses in exchange for the company providing more than $300,000 to move and preserve the house.
But Mayor Bob O’Dekirk, also the city’s liquor commissioner, last week recommended rejecting the liquor license. O’Dekirk said other city gas stations want to sell liquor, which is prohibited by city ordinance, and want the same kind of deal Thorntons is getting.
This week, the city heard from preservationists urging them to grant the liquor license and Collins Street residents asking them to block it.
Thorntons representative Drew Zazofsky pointed out that the company had changed its plans several times and agreed to provide more money to save the Casseday House in expectation of getting the deal already agreed to by the council.
“Please consider the precedent it sets for the city of not following through on the development agreement approved by this board,” he told the council Tuesday.
The council voted, 5-3, to approve the liquor licenses.
St. Mary Carmelite Church
The council rejected local landmark status for St. Mary Carmelite Church, which was opposed by the building’s owner. The owner has agreed to a restrictive covenant that would prevent demolition of the the church, which has been vacant for years.
Ancel Glink investigation
The City Council went into closed session at the end of the meeting to hear a report from law firm Ancel Glink on its review of ethics complaints filed by Sgt. Lindsey Heavener concerning an accusation that he was drinking alcohol while on duty at a downtown street festival.
O’Dekirk and Quillman, the subjects of the investigation, both have said they will be exonerated by the findings.