The front of the former Alcatel-Lucent Technologies building in Lisle, which Navistar had proposed to move in to, but has now backed out.
By David Weese
On May 25, Navistar CEO Daniel C. Ustian sent a letter to Lisle Mayor Joseph Broda announcing that Navistar would no longer be seeking to relocate its world headquarters and research and development facility to the former Alcatel-Lucent campus in Lisle.
In his letter, Ustain said, “Your support and collaboration over the past several months have been invaluable to Navistar as we’ve worked to establish our new World Headquarters in Lisle. As you know, not every step of the process has gone smoothly for us, but in terms of the great people in both the community and government of Lisle, we’ve been overwhelmed by the cooperation and encouragement we’ve received. As you are also aware, there is a small group that doesn’t want us in Lisle for whatever reason and are misrepresenting Navistar and many of our supporters. As this is jeopardizing our image and that of many innocent people who have advocated for us, we will no longer be participating in the Planning and Zoning Commission process. At this point in time, we feel it’s best if we step back and revisit the other locations we previously explored.”
The group Ustain is referring to is known as the Citizens for a Healthy Development in Lisle (CHD), and is a group of about six residents who apparently have a lot of money to throw at what they perceive as a problem. They have hired attorney Mark Daniel, who has spent hours representing them in public hearings on the matter. They have also set up a website: www.citizensforhealthydevelopment.org
“I’m extremely disappointed,” Broda said. “It’s traumatic loss for DuPage County and for the Village of Lisle and more importantly for bringing jobs to the State if Illinois. I’m just disappointed in the whole thing.”
“The news regarding Navistar’s decision is very disheartening,” said Gary Karafiat, who is Public Relations Director for the Construction Industry Service Corporation (CISCO). “There are no winners in this decision. The job-seeking residents and taxpayers of Lisle and DuPage County lose out; unemployed union construction workers lose out; local restaurants, retailers and hotels lose out; and the State of Illinois will watch another quality corporation move out.
“This is a company with a responsible track record. This is a company that puts people first. Navistar develops and creates quality vehicles to deliver our children safely to school, to protect our military personnel who keep our country free, and to transport residents to healthcare facilities in time of need.
“This project reached an impasse because a small group of short-sighted residents could not understand the big picture. In the end, we have to respect Navistar’s decision to put the protection of its employees ahead of making a profit. Ironically, a company with that kind of character is the type that Illinois should be trying to keep and attract.”
Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO John Schmitt, issued the following statement: “Today’s news is extremely unfortunate. We are deeply troubled that the zoning process has broken down and that Navistar feels obligated to take this step. However, since the Chamber became involved with the issue we have personally witnessed the opposition’s attempt to malign, obfuscate and throw every procedural road block at Navistar.
“The Chamber will do everything in our power to continue to promote our entire region as open and welcoming to business. Filling that campus with good private sector jobs is a mutual goal of business and civic leaders in our region. We will not rest in our attempt to secure economic prosperity for the thousands of businesses in our region.”
In a statement, DuPage County Board Chairman Bob Schillerstrom said, “It is a sad day for DuPage County and its citizens that misinformation and paranoia have won the day and ended Navistar’s proposed move to the vacant Lucent Technologies building in Lisle.
“Navistar has been nothing but a good corporate neighbor and they have been dedicated to growing our region through environmental preservation, economic development and job creation.
“Over the past nine months, we have worked hard with all interested parties in seeing this important project move forward, only to now have it ended by a misinformed minority seeking only their own self-preservation. Their unfortunate stall tactics have cost our region 2,000 new jobs and millions of dollars that would be invested directly into our local economy. Sadly, the jobs that an overwhelming majority of DuPage County residents wanted to see move here will now go elsewhere.
“DuPage County is a premier business destination because of companies like Navistar. As Chairman, I will continue to do everything I can to persuade Navistar to remain in DuPage County.”
The plan involved the building of a 230,000 sq. ft. research and development center, known as the Lisle Technology Center (LTC), and for the renovation of seven buildings on the site including the refurbishment of 1.2 million square feet of existing office space, as well as the building of a four story parking garage at a later date. In all, the company had planned to invest nearly $100 million at the site.
The renovation and construction jobs would have been a boon to the local trade unions, which have been averaging about 30 percent unemployment during this economic downturn.
Don Sharp, Vice President and Chief Information Officer for Navistar said “…This campus will create 800 to 1,000 jobs for the State of Illinois over the next several years,” Sharp said. “The company has committed to have 3,100 employees in the building in the next several years, with the possibility of expanding to the building’s capacity of 3,400 after that.”
“You may have some construction jobs, but there is no indication that Navistar itself is bringing thousands of jobs to the county,” Daniel said. “As far as new jobs, the highest number of new jobs that has been floated is 800, and we couldn’t even get confirmation on that from Navistar.”
When Navistar originally announced their original plans for the property last fall, it encountered strong resistance from the community. The company’s initial Planned Unit Development proposal that was submitted to the Village of Lisle listed some 60 proposed engine testing cells, and called for the storage of 150,000 gallons of diesel fuel at the site.
There is a housing development near the site, as well as Giant Steps School, which is a school for autistic children. Both the village and the neighbors were concerned about the noise and emissions from the diesel engine testing the company was proposing to do on the site. So when they encountered community resistance, Navistar stepped back from the process and revamped their plans. The number of testing cells was cut to six, and fuel storage plans were reduced. Now Navistar says it will only store 12,000 gallons on the site, which is about what an average gas station stores.
Sharp explained that the original number of test cells was part of a plan for another facility that was simply pulled off the shelf and submitted for this site. He explained that the PUD proposal was basically conceptual, and the company knew the plans would need to be refined to suit the needs of this particular site.
Navistar also radically altered where they planned to locate the research and development center, moving it to the northwest corner of the site, which is approximately 1600 feet from the school and neighboring houses. That is also the same distance to I-88, which runs just south of the property.
Once they had revised their plans, Navistar officials met face-to-face with the administration of Giant Steps School to explain their intentions, and once the school understood what was to be built there, Giant Steps said they were on board with the plan.
Sharp said that after both the village and local residents expressed concerns about their original proposal they went back and made “major changes” to their plan that they were sure would address the concerns of the community. He said that the company also produced a comprehensive environmental impact study that showed that their revised plan would have little or no impact on the local environment.
“Subsequently, the Forest Preserve District and the Village of Lisle hired independent environmental consultants to review our report, both of which came back and said that they accepted our results,” Sharp said.
Sharp said that with the dramatic changes in plans from the first proposal and the environmental studies that were validated by outside sources, “it sure seemed to us like we had addressed all their major concerns,” he said.
But the CHD refused to relent. They allege that the diesel engine testing center that Navistar was planning on locating at the site would still generate excessive fumes and noise, and that the site would turn into an eyesore because Navistar would be using the site to store derelict trucks and other vehicles that Daniel says they would need to keep for product liability purposes. CHD also alleges that zoning for the site does not allow for the testing center.
“The zoning is actually, O-R, which is office, research and development, and light industrial,” said Tony Budzikowski, who is Community Development Director for the Village of Lisle. He said the “light industrial” part of the zoning is something that has been missed in a lot of the recent discussions on the matter. Village zoning ordinances say that allows “Light industrial operations of experimental product development firms,” but CHD contend that because Navistar builds “heavy duty trucks,” the use would be industrial.
“What’s been said throughout the course of the many public hearings is that this is a heavy industrial use, but we disagree,” Budzikowski said. “We believe it is research and development and light industrial. It’s matter of interpretation, but we believe it does comply with the O-R requirements of the Lisle zoning code,” he said.
“From our view, the uses we are planning for that property fit well within the zoning of that property,” Sharp said.
But Daniel calls the facility an “industrial testing facility. He said the LTC “is an industrial style building. It has an industrial style design and will have industrial style uses going on inside. They may be called research uses, but you have to remember what goes on in Ft. Wayne (Indiana). Ft. Wayne is a testing facility. They may say Ft. Wayne and Melrose are irrelevant because those are manufacturing facilities. Only Melrose Park is a manufacturing facility.”
“That’s subject to interpretation, …but our staff has looked into it, and has said it’s research and development that will be going there,” Broda said.
“The mayor’s wrong in my view, and in my clients’ view. We have experts that are lined up to testify that this is an industrial use,” Daniel said.
“That’s their interpretation, and again, they’re fabricating stuff to make Navistar look bad, and this is why Navistar is leaving,” Broda said.
Budzikowski said that the present zoning designation was been in place before 1981, which is when the Lucent building was constructed. Most of the housing subdivisions surrounding the campus where the residents who are opposed to the project live were built after the Lucent building was constructed, so those homeowners were aware, or should have been aware, of how the property was zoned.
“The Lucent facility as it is today was there first. The zoning in place has been in place since at least 1981. All of the objectors who are complaining about it came after,” Broda said.
When asked if the members of CHD shouldn’t have known that the campus was zoned the way it was, Daniel said, “The village and Navistar will say that. That theory thrives on the argument that the use is a permitted use in the O-R district. When the village crosses the line to bring in an industrial testing facility like this, and when brokers can look at this and say this is an industrial use. When planners that have worked with economic development directors from Cook County and the City of Chicago and DuPage County can look at this and say this is an industrial use, there’s something wrong. It is more than coincidental that Navistar has now terminated the hearings twice on the eve that the neighbors were in a position to present their full-scale objections with expert support and direct testimony.”
“My concern is, if they have a problem with our zoning, they should challenge the village on the zoning classifications and interpretations, not Navistar,” Broda said.
Critics say that Daniel has also made the public hearing process extremely laborious and has used excessive and repetitive questioning tactics to drag out the process. They also allege that Daniels has subpoenaed many witnesses who have nothing to do with the process in an attempt to delay the public hearing process even further.
“Navistar made a business decision to back away from the process only from the standpoint that they didn’t sign up for [what they were encountering],” Broda said. “They say a handful of residents were basically challenging them taking them to trial and to task and misrepresenting the company’s image, and going above and beyond the planning and zoning process.
Sharp said, “At the highest level, this process has just become unacceptable for us.”
Sharp said his company was more than happy to participate in the public hearing process, and had no problems taking the time to make sure the community understood exactly what the plans were for the facility, but things degenerated into a completely different and unacceptable situation.
“We never signed up for our company, our supporters or our employees to be put on trial by a small group of people who oppose economic development on that East Lucent campus,” Sharp said.
Sharp said it was actually a combination of things that led the company to make the decision that it did. “There were nearly 25 subpoenas issued, and quite frankly from our view, [the subpoenas] were issued for people and witnesses who had nothing to do with zoning issues.”
Daniels said that witnesses were subpoenaed “basically to complete their own presentations, to establish that the LTC didn’t comply with the zoning ordinance, and to determine that there was an adverse impact on the neighborhood.”
Sharp said that along with the subpoenas were motions for “broad and unchecked discovery” that he said would have taken the company weeks to produce, and the majority of which weren’t relevant to the issue.
“There were threatened and actual lawsuits filed, that were in our opinion very unreasonable and misguided lawsuits,” Sharp said. He said that one was filed last week, and the threat of more suits in the future hung over Navistar’s head, which simply created an untenable situation for the company.
“One of the things that bothered us the most was that they were going to put our supporters on trial. The people who have come out and said ‘We think this is a good thing,’ some of those people have been subpoenaed, and they’re going to put them on the stand and potentially jeopardize their image as a result of that, and we find that unacceptable.”
Broda said the village was trying to follow state law based on a Supreme Court ruling that allows for due process, and cross examination of witnesses during public hearings, but he felt Daniel was abusing the process.
“If a presenter talks thirty minutes, does that mean that a reasonable amount of time for cross examination is three-and-a-half hours? I don’t think so. …I think they were using the process and the vagueness in the law to stretch out and delay the process so [Navistar] would get upset and go away.”
“There were limits set,” Daniel said. “I would also reject the idea that there was a delay effort underway from my perspective. In these hearing, when these applicants come in with fewer than all the facts, and have glaring assumptions that are miscalculated, or when they say ‘We’re going to evaluate one part of the project but not the overall impact or the entire development, you’ve got to discover the other impacts,” Daniel said.
Broda said that he thinks the public hearing process itself is basically a good one, but feels it need to be “tweaked” to set reasonable time limits on the cross-examination of witnesses. He also feels that subpoenaing witnesses who had nothing to do with the planning and zoning process as was done in this case should not be allowed.
Daniel said that part of the problem is that Navistar came into the public hearing process without all the needed documentation. He said the project was for a total of 1,500,000 square feet, and the company only presented on 300,000 square feet of it.
“The CHD complained that not all of the proper documents were presented at the planning and zoning hearing,” Broda said.
Broda explained that in order to save companies money, the village commonly waives some of the required documents until the basics of a plan are approved. Once the plan is given tentative approval, the complete set of planning documents is required before final approval is given. The village believes it is unfair to force companies to spend all the money required to produce all the needed engineering documents before they know if their plan has a chance of being approved.
“Navistar chose the path that it took.” Daniel said. “It may have done so on the advice of Lisle to take the easier road, knowing that they had the votes lined up, but when they come in with an incomplete application, and when the LTC, which is the one thing we know they are truly seeking to locate in Lisle, is only five percent planned, you have to cross-examine witnesses.”
“We really wanted the community to have the opportunity to ask questions, and we think we’ve been forthright and honest and have tried very hard to be forthright and honest throughout this whole process,” Sharp said. He conceded that the scope of the project was large, and that environmental studies were long, “so certainly there were questions that needed to be asked and we were committed to answering them.”
“But overall, the collection of everything—including some of the comments [Daniel] made—have just become unacceptable. We feel that it’s gone far beyond zoning issues. …The tactics he’s employed, we believe, are intended to delay and draw out the process,” Sharp said.
“Looking at these facts, we don’t see an end in sight for this process,” Sharp said. He said that while the company felt the village had done everything it could to help the company through the public hearing process, the issue for the company was the threat that the sale of the property could be dragged out in the courts for years. Sharp explained that the need to get the company into a new headquarters facility was pressing, and that the company simply couldn’t afford to drag the process out for years.
“At the end of the day, we’re a business, and any company—and that includes Navistar—hates uncertainty when it comes to cost, time and diversion of resources.” He said from a business standpoint, Navistar simply has to find a more suitable situation with less uncertainty.
“The story is not really in the six neighbors that are fighting this; it’s in why is it that you have a large international corporation like Navistar feeling bullied and victimized by a process they’re fully capable of concluding. Why is it that when they know they have their vote, that they would withdraw the application?”
A sign for the Giant Steps School for autistic children, located at 2500 Cabot Drive in Lisle, IL. In the background, the former Alcatel-Lucent campus, where Navistar had previously planned to move their world headquarters and research development facilities. Despite Navistar’s revision of their plans to move to the site, along with consent from the Giant Steps School, a small group of nearby residents worried about the effect of noise and diesel emissions.
“When you look at this LTC, Navistar made an enormous mistake, and the village of Lisle and other governmental agencies made an enormous mistake last fall,” Daniel said. “[The mistake] was the submission of a plan that showed that Navistar wanted and needed much more than it applied for in 2010. That’s when they showed 66 test cells or bays, and the statements on air pollution in relation to that application were basically summarized as: ‘You can live with it. It works just fine,’ and we all knew that wasn’t the case. But when they finally moved the LTC to the west, there was no possible way to give Navistar any credit for its statements that what they were seeking in 2010 was all they would want on the property, and Navistar couldn’t put that in the binding commitment.”
“We were prepared to present testimony that you could retrofit the building to allow dozens more test cells rather easily,” Daniel said.
“They could not do that unless they came before the village board,” Broda said. “That would require public hearings which would allow for input from the residents from the surrounding areas. That would be a change to the planned unit development, and they would have to come before us again for that change. The process is there to protect the residents. They don’t believe in the process.”
When it was pointed out that such changes would need to be approved by the village, Daniel said, “That doesn’t matter to me. The fact of the matter is, that when the village was in a position where it would have approved last fall’s plans—and they probably gave Navistar assurances to that effect, that the project would sail through in last fall’s proceedings—because they didn’t show up with a proper presentation. But the fact of the matter is, with the village, even at this very location, they have a history of approving amendments to PUDs immediately after the PUDs are approved.”
“So it’s not unreasonable to have this ‘camels head under the tent’ concern that once the head’s under there, the whole thing is coming later on,” Daniel said. “There were efforts to place restrictions on it, but nothing providing a binding level of comfort was given to the neighbors.”
“Mr. Daniel’s accusations, as everything [else] he’s done, are nonsensical, and continue to be nonsensical,” Sharp said. Sharp said that the company has testified on the public record that there will only be six test cells, and those test cells will only be run during business hours, and then only about half the time during those hours.
“Mr. Daniel clearly doesn’t understand the facts that were presented,” Sharp said. “We have no plans to add more test cells, and we’ve said that. It’s completely false.
CHD has also been critical of the amount of toxic emissions the LTC would produce. They say that if the testing cells were run continuously, they would produce over 100 tons of pollutants a year.
Sharp said that their environmental impact study showed that there would be a small increase in emissions from the site, but 85 percent of those emissions would be from the gas-fired boiler needed to heat the new facility. He said the environmental impact from the testing cells themselves would be “negligible at best.”
Several of the members of CHD actually live closer to I-88 than they do the site.
“There’s more noise and more pollutants coming of I-88 in one day than Navistar would produce in a lifetime,” Broda said. He explained that the emissions coming off the test cells would be put through a filtering process to greatly reduce the amount of toxin released.
“That I-88 argument is a cop-out. There is no 100 tons per year generator of emissions anywhere in Lisle, Wheaton or Glen Ellyn. …It’s only a matter of operations. If they have three shifts there, it will be 100 tons per year.”
“We have never stated that [those cells] will run 24 by 7, and we have testified that we have no plans to increase the number of cells,” Sharp said. “If we were ever going to do that, that would be classified as a major change, and that would require us to go through the PUD (Planned Unit Development) process. The village has confirmed that, and Mr. Daniel knows that.”
Navistar’s plans also call for a warranty analysis center, where parts that are deficient are studied to see why they failed. But CHD contends that the center will lead to derelict vehicles being stored on the site, essentially turning it into a junkyard.
“Think about it,” Daniel said. “If you have a warranty analysis center; let’s say you have a chassis problem or an engine block problem. That product comes in for a warranty analysis after a failure. Where’s does it go after it’s analyzed?”
“What is Navistar going to say when they see a photograph of a junked bus chassis at Ft. Wayne, or a photograph of a junked truck that’s in a graveyard in Melrose Park. They’re going to say that’s not going to be in Lisle,” Daniel said. “How Navistar operates its properties, how it respects the environment, how Navistar operates as a good neighbor as it testified repeatedly it does. When it has operations in Melrose Park that would be obscene in the Village of Lisle, that’s all very relevant, and it’s important for all the plan commission members to see that so that they know how to draft the regulations.”
But Daniel is not positive Navistar would be required to store parts at the site.“I have a feeling it is a requirement that is imposed by product liability laws. If you don’t maintain these parts, you have the potential for destruction of evidence. They do save these parts. Why else would you have the graveyards you have in Ft. Wayne and Melrose Park? Navistar doesn’t need to have that stuff sitting on its property?”
“Yet again, Mr. Daniel is distorting the facts,” Sharp said. He explained that the idea that Navistar would be using the site to store derelict vehicles, more-or-less turning it into a junkyard is “completely absurd, and is completely inconsistent with testimony that was provided, and that he listened to.”
Sharp said the company is on the record stating that the facility would be a “world headquarters and a customer showplace. We’re not going to have a junkyard in our backyard when we’re bringing in customers and suppliers, etcetera to showcase our technology leadership. We’ve said that over and over…but Mr. Daniel continues to fabricate these stories.”
It’s not over
The purchase agreement with Lucent is still in effect until Aug. 31, and Daniel believes the process is not over. He feels that the site is “a gem of a location, and is ready to move in and set up to house a multi-national corporation. Economically, it makes no sense for them to walk away from Lisle,” he said.
“We’re no longer participating in this process. We’re done. And we’re done because of the actions of Mr. Daniel and his clients,” Sharp said.
But Daniel believes Navistar’s move is only “for now. We’ll see what happens. You never write anything off. You can see people lining up with legislative efforts and everything else.”
Daniel said, “The minute Navistar can provide binding commitments on the environmental side of this, and provide certainty that this facility is not going to be expanded to what you could see under the fall plan, you can pretty much assume that Navistar would have made substantial headway with respect to the LTC. They never did it. They never indicated they were willing to do that, and no assurances were provided.”
“What I’m most disappointed in is the fact that these jobs are going away for the local union members. The combination of refurbishment of the 1.2 million square feet of existing office space and all the construction that was going to be there is not going to happen now,” Sharp said.
Sharp said “The unions have been very big supporters of ours,” and while the construction jobs weren’t actually Navistar jobs, “those are real jobs, and those unions have 30 to 40 percent unemployment from what they tell me. And now those jobs are going away, and that doesn’t even include the impact to the hotels and restaurants and everything else. So to say there is going to be no jobs or no economic impact is just nonsensical.”
“We have tried very hard to make this process work for everybody, and we’ve tried many different things, but I’ll be honest with you, we’re out of ideas,” Sharp said. “As a result, we don’t see a path forward.”
“We have been in contact with some state senators and representatives and the county board chairman, and I do know the governor has been contacted, so there may be something they can do collectively to save the day,” Broda said.
In a letter posted on the Chamber’s website, Schmitt said, “However, our work as a Chamber and business community isn’t over. We can raise our hands up and say “how unfortunate,” or we can channel all of this positive energy to learn from these past few months. I choose, and ask you to support us, in the latter.
“Today we have released simultaneous letters to numerous parties. Specifically, we are requesting that Governor Pat Quinn and his office personally intervene in this issue to work to find a reasonable solution for our regional business community.
“The Chamber will immediately begin working with our elected officials Representatives Mike Connelly and Darlene Senger and Senators Kirk Dillard and Randy Hultgren, to debrief the issue and educate them on where Illinois’ statutes as written, fell short of providing clarity.
“Our goal is to ensure that Illinois does not receive a permanent black eye from this experience. Illinois is now ranked the 46th worst state for business, having lost 29 spots since 2005 by trade magazine, Chief Executive. We must do better.”
“Probably the most positive thing that came out of this process is the many friends we’ve made,” Sharp said. “We’ve gotten incredible support from the community, we’ve gotten incredible support from the unions—from business and civic leaders, the Village of Lisle, the mayor of Lisle, the staff—the list is very long, and we are unbelievably grateful.
“As long as we remain in the community, we’re committed to building and strengthening those relationships, and remain committed to the community because that part has been incredible.”
When asked if he had any idea where the company might choose to move to now that the deal was off the table, Sharp said the company had devoted “a ton of time, money and resources” to this project, so they will need to step back and assess what their next move will be before they would be prepared to answer that question. “Getting to this decision was very difficult, and it’s very disappointing, but it’s a business decision and one we had to make.”
Sharp said “I don’t want to close the door on Illinois, but right now we just don’t have any viable options here.”
“I’m just hoping that Navistar has a change of heart,” Broda said.