Compass Business Park: An Industrial Warehousing & Distribution Development
NorthPoint Development’s Compass Business Park at full buildout per maps obtained via NorthPoint Development’s website. We identified the road boundaries as well as subdivisions and landmarks that people will recognize. The industrial warehousing and distribution development would be less than 1 mile from Wilson Creek Elementary School and adjacent to a number of residential areas.
WHAT IS COMPASS BUSINESS PARK?
As originally presented and planned, Compass Business Park would be a warehousing and distribution development. This project would be similar to the warehouses that have popped up in Will County. Compass Business Park is proposed by Kansas City, Missouri developer NorthPoint Development.
However, the scope of this particular industrial development would be unprecedented at size spanning more than 2900 acres (126,325,000 SQUARE FEET). The size of this project rivals nearby CenterPoint in Elwood, which is one of the largest in the nation. It would be one of the largest ever built of its kind. To comprehend the size of this development, it would be approximately 4.5x the size of Midway Airport. All in between the villages of Elwood and Manhattan. The project would span from approximately Route 53 in Elwood east to Cherry Hill Road in Manhattan and from Breen Road south to Hoff Road (abutting Midewin Tallgrass Prairie).
Because it would be an industrial warehousing, distribution and light manufacturing facility, it would require industrial zoning. It must receive approval from the local municipalities (or Will County) to be built because the majority of the property is zoned A-1 for agriculture. Additionally, the roads within the park are not deemed truck routes and consist of gravel roads, unmarked country roads, and tar-and-chip roads, so those would need to be changed as well.
NorthPoint Development owns several parcels under the name “EGLPC”, which is an acronym for East Gate Logisitcs Park Chicago, and they hold options on several more. However, there are large tracts of land in between these parcels in which current landowners do not intend to sell to NorthPoint Development. A large portion of the land was previously owned by Lakewood Homes with plans for a residential subdivision; however, that project fell through. The same can happen with NorthPoint Development’s Compass Business Park — it is under no circumstances a “done deal.” Please understand that simply because they own parcels of land does not mean that their project will be built.
WAREHOUSING & DISTRIBUTION
This development would consist primarily of warehouses in which trucks would move goods to and from the distribution center to their destination. Originally, this project was not planned as an intermodal facility as it does not have its own rail access. This facility would gain access to the rail by connecting the warehousing project to the CenterPoint Intermodal. They would do this by building a bridge from their warehouses (which would be east of Route 53) over Route 53 to connect to the rail located within CenterPoint. Rail is a necessary component in the logistics movement because goods are brought in by rail. From the rail, goods are distributed to distribution centers/warehouses, and then on to the consumer. Because it would not have direct rail access, this project would rely on trucks to move goods.
(Of note: Walter Strawn Drive was temporarily closed in 2015 by the Illinois Commerce Commission due to the safety hazard presented when trucks would run into the railroad safety gates on a nearly weekly basis. Last year in March of 2017, the ICC proposed to permanently close Walter Strawn Drive. Opening Walter Strawn Drive – or building a grade separation (aka bridge) over it – will require ICC approval in addition to IDOT.)
COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: A GRASSROOTS EFFORT BEGINS – JUNE 2017
Originally, the massive warehousing and distribution project was kept in complete secrecy. Local residents learned of the project when it was leaked onto Facebook in June 2017 with the following picture:
NorthPoint Development first approached the Village of Elwood, likely because NorthPoint Development would need access to the rail in order to make their project successful. They would do this by building a bridge. Due to the location of the rail and where NorthPoint wanted to build their bridge, they would need the Village of Elwood to grant permission. The reason is that the land where the bridge would be built has already been annexed into the Village of Elwood, and as such, Elwood has jurisdictional authority. As we also mentioned, NorthPoint would need to also get permission from the ICC to build a bridge over the railroad tracks that run parallel to Route 53. They planned to do build that bridge at Walter Strawn Drive.
The rest of the project was proposed for unincorporated land that spanned between Manhattan and Elwood. This is why the boundary agreement issue was such a big deal. The project to the West of Ridge road would’ve fallen under Elwood’s control with the project falling on the east side of Ridge Road under the control of Manhattan.
Even though the majority of the project would’ve fallen under the control of the Village of Manhattan, NorthPoint did not approach them. Although the Village of Manhattan made several attempts to get a “seat at the table,” they were continuously blocked by the developer. NorthPoint simply was not interested in working with them until they had the first (and more important) part of the project secured.
Residents were also kept in the dark about the project. For the most part, the project was kept in secrecy, and attempts by the public to get more information were blocked, questions unanswered. This forced residents to submit FOIA requests to gain information. Those requests were often heavily redacted, at times incomplete, and time extensions were frequently used. As time went on, more pictures of the proposed project found their way online. Here one of them:
DIVIDE AND CONQUER: lawsuits, animosity and more
Originally, as we mentioned, NorthPoint Development submitted an application for the annexation and rezoning only to the Village of Elwood. NorthPoint repeatedly said that they would work with Elwood and then Manhattan. However, they never attempted to get everyone at the table at the same time.
In March of 2018, it appeared that NorthPoint Development was planning with Elwood to have the entire project – despite planning beyond their agreed upon jurisdiction limits aka boundary agreement. As a result of that, the Village of Manhattan sued the Village of Elwood and NorthPoint Development. This lawsuit was later settled as the desired outcome — stopping negotiations and putting everything back to square one — was achieved.
As we researched this project, we found that NorthPoint Development used this same tactic in Kansas – going to one municipality and then the other. This would have allowed NorthPoint to leverage the acceptance of one community over the other.
Residents faced continued threats that alleged another municipality would take over the project — even when it didn’t make sense (see also: debunking Joliet Myth). These continued rumors even prompted Joliet Mayor Bob O’Dekirk to go on record several times emphasizing that there is no deal with NorthPoint and the city of Joliet. NorthPoint Development also commissioned a robo-call that went out to residents, asking them if they would like to see Joliet gain the tax benefits (even though NorthPoint Development has historically received tax abatements in nearly every project they have completed).
OPPOSITION GROWS to industrial warehousing DEVELOPMENT
Meanwhile, as residents continue to educate others and learn about the project, opposition to the project continues to grow.
A farmer’s protest parade was held with military vehicles and farm equipment. State Representative Larry Walsh, Jr. supported our efforts, as did Will County Board member Don Gould (District 6). Will County Executive Larry Walsh, Sr. also supported our efforts to stop the project.
Multiple taxing bodies came out against the project by making and passing formal resolutions against the project. Those taxing bodies include: Jackson Township, Manhattan Township, Elwood School District, Elwood Fire Protection District, and the Manhattan School District.
ELWOOD HEARING CANCELLED – APRIL 2018
Elwood held public hearings before the Planning & Zoning Commission which lasted for 3 nights totaling nearly 14 hours of testimony. Residents came out in droves to oppose the project. Media coverage included (but was not limited to) WGN, Chicago Tribune’s Daily Southtown, WJOL, The Herald News, and the Farmer’s Weekly Review. In the end, without any questions or deliberation, the Planning & Zoning Commission voted to recommend the project to the board. Since then, one of those commissioners has stepped down.
The Elwood Planning & Zoning Commission vote was merely a recommendation to the Village Board. It was simply an advisory body. The Village Board in Elwood would be the authority to determine the fate of the project. A Public Hearing before the Elwood Village Board was scheduled. However, it was cancelled in April 2018 by Mayor Jenco, citing a lack of board support for the project.
Despite being shut down by the Village of Elwood, NorthPoint continued to work quietly – closing on additional parcels of land in June 2018. They are intent on steamrolling the folks who live in the area as well as the local municipalities to get what they want – at any cost.
NORTHPOINT DEVELOPMENT APPROACHES WILL COUNTY – JULY 2018
Like petulant little children who didn’t get their way when mom said no, NorthPoint Development is now pestering dad for approval. They have approached Will County to request rezoning from agriculture zoning to industrial zoning. The warehousing and distribution center must have industrial zoning due to the nature of the work that would take place there. The new application to the county was submitted in July 2018.
It is important to note that the new application is for a 670 acre development. The new application does not include the nearly 700+ that NorthPoint owns closer to Manhattan. Do not be fooled into thinking that the warehousing development has been reduced in size. If they get approval for some of it, they will pursue the rest of it. Compass Business Park was never intended to be a 600 acre distribution center.
This new application to the county does not include the bridge that was previously included in project renderings. Remember, the bridge is what would connect NorthPoint Development to the rail and give it access to the interstate. Without it, the warehousing distribution center will rely on more trucks, and they will need to use Route 53 and other local roads, such as Manhattan Road and Hoff Road, to move goods.
Even though the bridge is not included in the new application, the ICC (Illinois Commerce Commission – regulating body) case for the proposed bridge is still open. NorthPoint has not withdrawn their application with the ICC. This means that they still intend to have the bridge — and that they will still need approval in Elwood.
APPLICATION MISSING CRITICAL INFORMATION
NorthPoint Development hired well known land use attorney Richard Kavanagh to represent them with their application to the county. The application submitted to the county was incomplete application. This application was missing critical information — which was no mistake. Kavanagh is not a rookie, and they were missing 15 points of critical information.
APPLICATION COMPLETED AT THE LAST MINUTE — more opposition from municipalities
On the eve of the deadline, NorthPoint Development finally completed their application and submitted it. Currently, we are waiting to learn when the public hearing will be scheduled. This would be scheduled by Will County within the Land Use department. Please stay tuned to our Facebook page and our website. Updates will be provided when available.
In the meantime, the Village of Elwood has filed a formal, written objection to the project. The Village of Manhattan vows to do the same at the November 5th board meeting (meetings are typically held on Tuesdays; however, due to the general election, the first meeting of the month was moved to Monday).
NORTHPOINT APPROACHES ELWOOD OVER BRIDGE – MAY 2019
NorthPoint officials contend that the Village of Elwood is obligated to cooperate with NorthPoint building a bridge. Elwood officials disagreed with that assumption and preemptively sued NorthPoint. The lawsuit is ongoing and will result in a declaratory judgement to determine if Elwood has any obligations.
NORTHPOINT APPROACHES MANHATTAN – MAY 2019
With the Will County application still in limbo and the lawsuit between Elwood and NorthPoint ongoing, NorthPoint again approached the village of Manhattan. This time, the Village, despite public outcry against the project, has decided to hear what NorthPoint has to say. They created a Development Portal to control what information is released to the public. As of September 2019, no new information has been uploaded, and there has allegedly been no contact between NorthPoint and Manhattan since their initial contact in May.
NORTHPOINT FILES APPLICATION FOR REZONING WITH JOLIET- SEPTEMBER 2019
The city of Joliet was in receipt of a petition to rezone 103 acres of NorthPoint property, and a hearing before the Joliet Plan Commission was scheduled for October 17, 2019 at 4pm at the Joliet City Hall. The agenda does not disclose that it is NorthPoint property and is rather sparse with information. However, we filed a FOIA request to obtain the petition, which states the petitioner as NorthPoint Development. The property has been held under the name Daniel Light/LB Andersen Construction Company. If you recall, the lawsuits with Elwood over the bridge are under LB Andersen. The petition requests that the property be rezoned from residential to I-1 (industrial). The property in question is located on the south side of Breen Road, east of Rowel.
We believe that this is an expansion of the original NorthPoint footprint with the potential to bring Compass Business Park to 3,000 acres when complete. Additional FOIA documents obtained show that when NorthPoint initially contacted Steve Jones with the City of Joliet, Patrick Robinson referenced the project in its entirety and their 1.2B investment. This is the gateway to having the entire project moving forward.
Our group’s statement:
The property in question is clearly one small part of a 1.2 billion dollar project — Compass Business Park — as supported by FOIA documents. It’s time for the Joliet board to rescind the NorthPoint hearing and sign a 5-year boundary agreement with Elwood, which gives them time to get a city manager and comprehensive plan in place. NorthPoint’s continued persistence demonstrates their complete disrespect for the community, unabashed greed, and unwarranted arrogance. Our group will continue to fight this poorly-planned development with the same veracity that we brought to Elwood.
JOLIET APPROVES 103 ACRES AFTER O’DEKIRK BREAKS TIE – NOVEMBER 2019
Despite a valiant effort to show City Council what the 103 acres truly was, NorthPoint won that battle. With the votes split after Jan Quillman waffled, passed her vote, and then finally voted yes to tie it, Mayor Bob O’dekirk broke the tie approving it.
It is worth noting that the sale of the 103 acres’ was contingent on the rezoning. Though it has been approved, to date (February 7, 2020) NorthPoint has still not closed on that 103 acres, which further supports our theory that it was never intended to be anything more than a stepping stone to the larger project. Since then, we have anticipated that they would be back.
You can check land records online, for free, yourself. Yes, we are aware that there has been some “action” near the property. The pipleline was conducting maintenance and we believe they are likely doing soil testing and other studies — just like they did in the summer of 2017 when NorthPoint was planning on building their project with Elwood — and breaking ground in November 2017. Look how well that worked out.
NORTHPOINT SEEKS TO REZONE 1,300 ACRES THROUGH JOLIET – JANUARY 2020
Since Joliet refused to extend the boundary agreement with Elwood, after December 31, 2019, Joliet was free to annex the previously held “Elwood side” of Compass Business Park. News hit the press January 18th, 2020 that Joliet sought to rezone the 1,300 acres. This acreage, in addition to the original footprint on the Manhattan side, the 103 acres already approved last fall, and the property in Elwood now put the size of the project at nearly 3,000 acres.
The Village of Manhattan also issued a press release stating that they intended to work with Joliet for their side of the project, flying in the face of the boundary agreement that is still current between the Village of Elwood and the Village of Manhattan.
HEARING SET, THEN POSTPONED, THEN RESCHEDULED – JANUARY-FEBRUARY 2020
The plan commission hearing in Joliet for the new petition for 1,300 acres to be annexed was set for February 20, 2020; however, they wanted more time. The hearing was then postponed for the city to get more information; though what new information was gained is unknown, the meeting was rescheduled. On Monday, February 24, 2020, the Joliet Planning Commission unanimously passed the NorthPoint proposal 8-0.
The hearing before the Joliet City Council was originally planned for March 17th, 2020. Due to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) situation: As per the City of Joliet press conference held on March 16th, 2020 at 2 PM, public hearings (including NorthPoint) would remain on the agenda. At the March 17th meeting, the NorthPoint hearing was continued to the Joliet City Council meeting on April 7th at 6:30 PM. However, on April 7th at 6:30 PM the meeting was scheduled for Monday, April 13th at 5:30 PM as a “virtual” or online meeting without the public’s actual presence being allowed at City Hall.
The meeting was held in six parts over five days with nearly 300 public comments via telephone, and concluded on April 17th, 2020…
Joliet City Council voted to approve a pre-annexation agreement for NorthPoint Development’s Compass Business Park. Given the mayor and councilmembers’ who voted to approve this project’s blatant disregard for the public, this decision does not come as a surprise. Though we thank those who voted to oppose this project, the reality is the unchecked and unabashed arrogance of the majority coupled with reckless poor decision-making skills and a track-record for silencing the public has become par for the course. With that said, we are not defeated, and we are not giving up. We will be moving forward with our legal team to ensure that affected residents’ right to due process will be upheld. They may have ignored our comments during the hearing, but they cannot ignore us in court.
We hope you will join us in saying No to NorthPoint. We’ve come too far to quit now.