John Basile walked along his six-acre site in Lockport, and greeted his animals by name.
There’s Khan, the tiger; Charlie, the mountain lion, and romping in a nearby enclosure were two of his nine wolves – JJ and Sitka, British Columbian timber wolves.
They are among the 20 animals that comprise Big Run Wolf Ranch at the end of Farrell Road near 148th Street, where 40,000 visitors come every year to get an up close lesson in the lives of these wild, yet tamed animals.
But scenery in the area might be in for changes.
The animal enclosures now abut a cornfield that may become the site of five industrial warehouses.
When Basile first came to the site 30 years ago, it was “very secluded.”
Homes have since sprouted up next to his land, but if the proposed industrial park is approved by the Lockport City Council, it “could be the end of Big Run Wolf Ranch,” he said.
Basile, a former diesel mechanic, said the fuel from trucks visiting the planned site contains chemicals that create air pollution that could be harmful to creatures.
Prologis, a global developer of industrial real estate, proposes to build five warehouses, totaling 2 million square feet on 206 acres between Archer Avenue and I-355, south of 143rd Street and north of 151st on land owned by Tom Small, of Lockport Investments LLC.
Basile is one of more than 2,100 people who have signed an online petition opposing the proposed industrial development in Lockport, saying it will “destroy” the city.
Online comments from petitioners called the project a “travesty,” an “eyesore,” and a “bad idea.”
“I believe this Industrial Park will affect many lives,” wrote one petitioner. “Big Run Wolf Ranch will have to relocate because the pollution alone would harm many of these endangered species. This is being built in the middle of residential areas. Do you really know the affect of pollution on any living being? This is a terrible idea.”
“This is too close to homes, and schools, and the wolf ranch. Don’t give into corporate greed, keep our town beautiful,” penned another.
The Lockport Plan Commission first reviewed the proposal in November and will conduct another public meeting 7 p.m. Jan. 10 in City Hall to further discuss the plan.
Mike Bonomo, president of the Creekside Estates Homeowners Association, a 10-year-old residential subdivision off 151st Street, fears the planned development will depreciate property values, disrupt the roads with truck traffic, and generate no benefits for the citizens of Lockport.
“No one will spend $500,000 for a home to see a warehouse in their backyard,” he said.
The plan has created “a lot of animosity,” and could become a “huge issue” in the municipal election in April, when Mayor Steve Streit is up for re-election, he said.
The site is surrounded by residential property on three sides. But Bonomo questioned how much city officials care about the wishes of residents north of the development — in unincorporated Lockport Heights who can’t vote in city elections.
According to city documents, the property was initially annexed and zoned in 2001. Land immediately east of Archer is currently zoned for general office use while most of the land is zoned for limited manufacturing.
City Administrator Ben Benson said the property has been designated for industrial uses long before homes were built there, but he did not know why single family homes were allowed to be built adjacent to an industrial district, saying that the homes were approved under a previous administration.
But Bonomo said a key parcel in the middle of the 200 acres was annexed and rezoned in 2014, which paved the way for this new industrial park.
Benson acknowledged that there was the same “public outcry” then as now.
The “Don’t Destroy Lockport” webpage claims the project will create “hundreds” of semi-trucks and more than 1,000 cars daily that will generate air and noise pollution, and clog roads.
Benson said he cannot confirm those figures because the tenants are still unknown.
The city has a list of 36 businesses that are prohibited here, including freight, rail and intermodal terminals, recycling facilities, hazardous material storage or disposal, incinerators, asphalt plants, junk/salvage yards, sexually oriented businesses and auto body shops.
The project most likely will feature similar buildings and occupants as the “very successful” Heritage Crossings business park on the east side of 355, Benson said.
He said city officials have been working with Prologis to minimize any impact on residents. The company agreed to increase the distance between the warehouses and the homes, and add a 16-foot landscaped berm with a cedar fence along the southern edge, and an eight-foot berm with a fence on the north, to separate the Lockport Heights homes from the proposed new roadway that will run east-west through the development from 143rd to Archer Avenue.
The city also has designated one of its police officers to be a full time truck enforcement officer, beginning in January, to keep trucks off residential streets.
Prologis also agreed to reduce the size of the one warehouse that lies directly north of Big Run Wolf Ranch and Creekside Estates.
Benson disagreed that the diesel trucks will mean the end of the wolf ranch, noting that other zoos have thrived in urban settings.
The village’s website, which features the details of the Prologis plan, noted that when Big Run Wolf Ranch was built, the northern border of its property was already zoned Industrial. Prior to 2006, the ranch encroached on that adjacent land by constructing animal enclosures directly on the industrial zoned lands. In 2006, the current owner of the industrial parcel sold about an acre to the ranch.
Big Run Wolf Ranch is seen as an “asset” to the community and, Benson said, the proposed industrial development will have a “great” economic impact on the city by creating jobs, and generating daytime traffic that will spur more commercial growth.