News - Joliet and Will County

Plan moves ahead to create Joliet park too close for sex offenders

City Council approves $124,000 acquisition of Center Street property

The city of Joliet is about to become the owner of a fire-damaged house acquired for the strategic purpose of forcing out registered sex offenders who live a block away.

The Joliet City Council on Tuesday approved the acquisition of the unoccupied house at 1000 N. Center St. at a price of $124,000.

City officials, siding with Cunningham neighborhood residents alarmed about an apartment house that has been converted to living quarters for a half-dozen registered sex offenders, say they intend to build a park on the corner lot at Center and Moran streets.

They are banking on a state law that bars registered sex offenders from being within 500 feet of a public park.

NewDay Apartments, which owns the apartment building, contends the law does not apply to all sex offenders, and the park won’t stop them from moving tenants into the building. Lake Zurich-based NewDay finds residences for sex offenders, who face multiple restrictions on where they can live.

The issue has become a hot-button topic for many in the Cunningham neighborhood.

But several who live near the site of the future park were unaware of the city plan when asked about it Wednesday.

“If it’s beneficial for the neighborhood, whatever’s best for everyone,” Jennifer Gonzalez said of the city plan for the park.

Gonzalez, who has children of her own but had not heard about the controversial apartment house, lives across the street from the proposed park.

“That seems nice, rather than having a house that no one is using,” she said.

Another Center Street neighbor, who would identify herself only as Bonnie, was familiar with the apartment house but had not yet heard of the plan to build the park.

“It’s not going to be a big park,” Bonnie said.

But, she is all for the city plan if it works.

“It’s a good idea to get them out,” Bonnie said, noting the future park and apartment house are a short distance from the Cunningham Elementary School. “Every day you see tons and tons of kids walking by.”

The kids in the neighborhood talk about the apartment house at 1000 N. Cora St, said Kenny Smalley, who was walking by the building Wednesday.

“The kids are aware of it. They’re all creeped out,” Smalley said.

Mothers don’t like it being there, he said.

“I know it doesn’t make anyone in the neighborhood feel comfortable,” Smalley said.

Asked how the residents of the apartment house have been conducting themselves, he said, “They keep to themselves from what I see. I hear more from the neighbors.”

One man who appeared to be a resident of the apartment house backed away when asked about the city’s plan to build a park to drive people out of the building.

“I have nothing to say,” the man said.

It’s not clear when the city would create the park.

“I don’t know how fast we’ll be able to move,” City Manager James Capparelli said after the council vote Tuesday.

The $124,000 price is only to buy the property. It does not include the cost of demolition and converting the site into a park.

The property at 1000 North Center Street is becoming an eyesore. The house is partially boarded up, and the second floor exterior shows fire damage. Brush is overgrowing in the yard, and tires are piled outside the garage.

Curiously enough, there is an elephant statue in the backyard that conceivably could be a park feature.

John Sheridan, president of the Cunningham Neighborhood Council, said the elephant is a fountain that at one time blew water out of the trunk when the house was occupied.

Sheridan said neighbors generally support the city plan to create the park. But he noted the uncertain timetable and suggested the city pursue another proposal to buy Ring doorbells with camera features for residents nearest the apartment building to provide a sense of security.

“The cost is minimal compared to what we just spent,” he said.