Planning gap becomes election issue in Joliet

First city comprehensive plan in 60 years has been on hold for a year

NorthPoint Development's annexation agreement for 1,260 acres goes to the Joliet City Council for a vote on March 17.

The usually dry topic of city planning has flared up as an issue at times in the campaign for Joliet City Council.

The city last year put on hold its plan to develop the first comprehensive plan for Joliet in 60 years, and candidates have been asked what they would do to start it up again.

“The funds and the money are available to move forward with the plan,” candidate Glenda Wright-McCullum said when the question was asked at a candidates forum held by the Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry. “What held it up was the lack of personnel coming through the city.”

The two top positions in the city planning department have been vacant for months: director of community development and planning director.

Candidate Hudson Hollister has put out a to-do list if elected and includes filling those positions along re-starting the comprehensive plan.

He said the chamber forum wasn’t the only venue in which the absence of a comprehensive plan has been raised in the campaign.

“It comes up a lot,” Hollister said. “It comes up in the context of NorthPoint for instance.”

The controversial NorthPoint Development plan to build the Compass Global Logistics Hub may be more familiar to people than the city’s comprehensive plan or lack of one. But Hollister said NorthPoint got people focused on city planning.

“NorthPoint doesn’t conform to any plan because we don’t have one,” Hollister said.

The City Council in September 2019 approved a $249,000 contract with urban planning company RATIO to develop a comprehensive plan, a process that was to take about 18 months and involve intense community involvement.

RATIO and city planners put an emphasis on the importance of community outreach in developing the plan.

The contract was put on hold last year as the city cut its budget to prepare for the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Joliiet city Planner Jim Torri, who has been the chief of planning in the absence of a department director, said the pandemic itself has made it nearly impossible to proceed with a comprehensive plan.

“Largely, COVID created the stop,” Torri said. “To try to involve the community with that going on was too difficult.”

Torri said the city has the money budgeted to move ahead with the plan in 2021.

“We need the community,” he said. “But we also need a planning director and community development director to oversee the project.”

The city is interviewing prospective candidates for director of community development but is still advertising the job. No candidates for planning director have been interviewed, but the job has been advertised.