ELWOOD – The bill proposed by state Rep. Larry Walsh Jr., D-Elwood, to give voters a say on controversial annexations will be limited to the Elwood area, he said.
Walsh amended the bill Friday.
House Bill 5727 was created in the wake of a controversial vote by the Elwood Planning and Zoning Commission in January to give preliminary approval to an annexation for the NorthPoint project after three nights of public hearings in which hundreds of residents showed up in opposition to the plan for more warehouse and distribution facilities.
“What I’m trying to do is build support and give voters a voice,” Walsh said. “If I have to move it to my own backyard to do it, that’s what I’m going to do.”
Walsh’s proposal initially would have covered every municipality in Illinois outside of Chicago.
He said it would be revised to only include a five-mile area around the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery and Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. That would cover an area that includes Elwood, Joliet, Manhattan, Channahon, Wilmington and Symerton.
The number of signatures needed to force an annexation to a referendum also is being changed. The original bill required 10 percent of the voters from the last election in the municipality making the annexation. The bill now will require 50 percent of the voters to put a referendum on the ballot.
Voters could force a referendum only after the annexation was approved. But depending on timing, the bill could be used to force a referendum if the NorthPoint annexation is approved by the Elwood Village Board.
House Bill 5727 has faced stiff opposition, especially from municipal officials who see it as limiting municipal authority and stifling economic development.
Locally, the Will County Governmental League, an association of municipalities, is against it. It also is opposed by the Illinois Municipal League, which lobbies on legislation affecting cities and villages.
“It’s not that I’m against economic development,” Walsh said. “But my constituents need a voice, and they don’t feel their voice is being heard.”
If HB 5727 is approved by the Legislature, it could force a referendum on NorthPoint’s attempts to annex land into Elwood for its Compass Business Park, which would eventually cover more than 2,200 acres.
The annexation has yet to be considered by the Elwood Village Board. Elwood Village Administrator Marian Gibson last week said that village officials still are working on the agreement, and she did not yet know when it would be ready for the Village Board.
Meanwhile, the village of Manhattan last week filed a lawsuit in Will County Court seeking to stop the annexation process, arguing that Elwood is violating an agreement establishing future boundaries between the two towns.