Elwood v. NorthPoint plays out at Joliet hearing

Elwood vs. NorthPoint laid out at Plan Commission hearing

NorthPoint and Elwood faced off this week in an atmosphere that at times took on an air of courtroom drama thanks to the introduction of cross-examination in the Joliet public hearing process.

The issues of a Route 53 bridge, impact on the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery and the potential costs to Elwood from the NorthPoint project were aired out during repeated give-and-takes with Elwood officials and other callers throughout the course of the Joliet Plan Commission meeting that went for more than five hours before the commission gave preliminary approval to the plan.

The new element of cross-examination took some getting used to.

"Sir, you're out of line," commission chairman John Dillon said at one point as an attorney for Elwood grilled a NorthPoint executive about what was in development plans submitted to Joliet. "I'm sorry. You're not Joliet. You're not working for us."

Dillon emphasized that even with cross-examination added to the process, the hearing was "not a court of law."

"This is not a court of law. You're correct," attorney Jordan Kielian said. "There is a procedure here."

Although it may not have been a court of law, NorthPoint had its own attorney at the hearing who was allowed to object to questions.

Attorney Tom Osterberger also made what amounted to a closing argument at the end of the hearing, when he discussed the Joliet plan to annex 1,260 acres to the border of Elwood.

"The fact that another community does not want to annex that property is not Joliet's fault," Osterberger said.

Elwood turned down the NorthPoint plan in 2018, which led to the developer bringing its project to Joliet weeks after a boundary agreement that would have prohibited the current plan expired.

"The village of Elwood contacted Joliet multiple times to try to extend the boundary agreement," said Village Administrator Julie Friebele, implying the distrust that has developed over the plan.

The most essential feature of the project, a bridge over Route 53, would be in Elwood.

Friebele and Kielian repeatedly questioned a NorthPoint executive about the impact of the project on Elwood and Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery.

NorthPoint Vice President of Development Tom George at times, however, used the questions to question Elwood's own commitment resolving truck traffic problems on Route 53 and the cemetery.

When Friebele questioned him about potential truck noise at the cemetery, George said the BNSF Railway intermodal operation in Elwood "is clearly a massive noise generator for the cemetery. I don't see that Elwood has tried to do anything to mitigate the noise."

"A tremendous amount of truck docks face the front entrance of the cemetery with no screening whatsoever," he said later, commenting on a facility Elwood allowed to be built.

NorthPoint contends its project will be better designed and built to avert the kind of truck problems that have developed since the BNSF intermodal yard opened in 2000 in Elwood and the Union Pacific intermodal yard opened in 2007 in Joliet.

But the distrust between Elwood and Joliet seems to grow as the NorthPoint plans develop.

Elwood Mayor Doug Jenco asked the Joliet commission to understand the situation his town is in.

"If for some godforsaken reason, Rockdale wanted to build a bridge from Rockdale to Crest Hill over Larkin Avenue on top of Joliet," Jenco said, "you guys would be having a hissy fit."