“I knew this was going to come back to bite us in the butt, but I vote aye,” council member Bettye Gavin said as she joined the 8-0 vote for the settlement.
Mayor Bob O’Dekirk, however, commended staff on the deal along with plans to potentially put the site to new use.
“Compliments to the staff for thinking outside of the box and coming up with a good solution,” O’Dekirk said as the council voted Tuesday.
Joliet will buy the property of two businesses that went to court accusing the city of potentially stranding them in 2018 when a bridge on Old Richards Street was vacated, meaning the city disclaimed responsibility for its upkeep.
The businesses – a road construction construction company owned by William and Peg Zaffino and an auto business owned by Michael Veugeler – are the only properties located on their side of the Old Richards Street bridge over Hickory Creek.
The city will pay $1.8 million for the Zaffinos’ property and $975,000 for Veugeler’s property.
The Zaffinos filed a lawsuit in 2017 trying to stop the abandonment of the bridge, and Veugeler joined them in court in 2018. The business owners contended the city decision could leave the businesses without access to and from their property if the deteriorating bridge became unusable.
The city becomes responsible for bridge upkeep, according to the settlement.
City officials said they have other plans, although it’s not clear what they will do.
The city four years ago estimated the cost of needed bridge repairs at $2 million.
Council member Larry Hug said at the Tuesday meeting that he was voting for the settlement with the understanding that the city would not “fix a bridge that we don’t need.”
In the meantime, the city becomes the landlord for the two business at a rent of $1 a year. The city is responsible for the upkeep of the building exteriors, parking lots and landscaping, according to lease agreements approved by the council Tuesday.
While the city is responsible for upkeep of the bridge, Joliet can give the business tenants 90-days notice if the state declares the bridge unusable, according to the lease agreements.
City officials have described the rental agreement as a short-term arrangement. Lawyers for the business owners have not returned calls for comments.
City Manager James Capparelli said the plan is to develop an alternative use for the property. He said the land could be leased to the state for parking and equipment storage during the Interstate 80 renovation project.
The property is bordered on the south side by I-80. Richards Street was realigned during the original construction of I-80 separating what is now Old Richards Street from the main thoroughfare.
Capparelli’s comments differ from what Deputy City Attorney Chris Regis suggested would be a future use for the property. Regis last week said the city planned to move city services onto the property at some point and would develop an alternative access to the site so the bridge would not be needed.