The City of Geneva has awarded itself a do-over of Ordinance 2022-10 (see agenda for Oct. 3, 2022. – “Ordinance 2022-40″). In March 2022-10 was passed creating Special Service Area #34 for Emma’s Landing to protect Geneva from the consequences of flooding resulting from that Special Planned Unit Development. Floods seem likely if Emma’s planners function at the same level as the Geneva City Council.
But here’s the thing. According to Geneva Municipal Code “11-9-3: – INITIATION: The owner of the property for which a planned unit development is sought may initiate a request for a special use planned unit development.” (Ord. 95-28, 5-1-1995). The City Council tripped on the starting line and face-planted long before the SSA became an issue. Mostly in secret and while disregarding 11-9-3, the City clandestinely chose the Burton Foundation (a one-person operation) to be the unlawful non-owner “requester” for its already guaranteed LIHTC PUD. In the process, the Council secretly tossed out a better candidate in MVH, who even wanted to make a counteroffer to the Burton greased ambush, but Geneva ignored MVH’s plea for fairness.
The provision that the actual property owner apply for the PUD is sound. The applicant should have skin in the game, or else a procession of carpet baggers will take flyers on obtaining a low cost buy option while the resident taxpayers pay more than half of the application costs for these outsiders through bloated municipal salaries and consultants.
Of course, only a privileged few knew anything about this until at least a year after the fact. Now City of Geneva comes with a fairy tale about a mistaken signing of the PUD plat by a surrogate claiming ownership of the property. Finally, City of Geneva is willing to go on public record that it was the owner of Emma’s Parcel. By Code the owner must “initiate a request for a special planned unit development.” The Mayor, without approval by his minions of the Council, filed a “correction” with the County Recorder. No lawful request for a PUD was ever made by anyone. It was all winks and nods and smoke and mirrors, as per the Geneva Way. Remember Geneva “waived” its fees (and sandbagged its way to bonus points from the Illinois Housing Development Authority for it.) Geneva also duped IHDA into believing it donated Emma’s Site. Without these stolen “strokes” Geneva and Burton would have lost the match. Actually, they should have been DQ’ed and banned from further play.
Putting the fine points of the Royal & Ancient Rules aside, this was government of the government, by the government, and for the government. The phantom “request” for the PUD was made by the City Council as the applicant owner, and then the City Council acted as the judge and jury. The City Council lied and claimed that there were no other parties interested. The Council lied when it claimed Emma’s would be taxed like any other Geneva private property. In fact, Emma’s will be the only property in Geneva taxed differently (2005 Illinois 35 ILCS 200/ Property Tax Code. Division 11 – Low-Income Housing” “…local assessment officers must consider the actual or probable net operating income attributable to the project,”). All this impairs the funding of the SSA, which is predicated on a much different taxing scheme based on income, not market value. These perjuries alone should have resulted in sanctions (if not a sentence) by the judge, but the Council was and is the judge.
Every property owner in Geneva Township and even some nearby will see his or her taxes go up as a result of this swindle. Residents near Emma’s Landing may see their property values permanently impaired by the banditti vigilantes carrying bogus council badges. Some lower-income households may be taxed out of their homes. Some of these victims can’t even vote for a new mayor or alderman, as they do not live in Geneva.
Don’t let the City of Geneva into your foursome – their bets all come out of your pockets, and the City keeps score. The taxpayers deserve a mulligan on Emma’s Landing.
The left image is Mary Ann Foster Stearns Pratt from: Mary Ann Frost | Church History Biographical Database (churchofjesuschrist.org); The right image is cropped and horizontally flipped from the restored version of [Unidentified woman, half-length portrait, facing front] (loc.gov)
City of Geneva: Review and Release the Minutes and Tapes* of the February 2020 Secret Meetings NOW
The page displayed below relates to the Geneva “Emma’s Landing” Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) project. The document’s provenance is important and the red boxes around two paragraphs have significance. I received the communication via a Freedom of Information Act request to the Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA). The document is page 22 of a 48-page file (attached) titled “11831_site control, Emma’s Landing, Geneva, Illinois, The Burton Foundation.“
I made similar FOIA requests to the City of Geneva for information related to all aspects of the Emma’s Landing application and approval. Although I received hundreds of pages of mostly redundant email threads, I did not receive the document with the red box. The yellow highlighting of “Good news” was added by me. The red box was present on the IHDA FOIA response.
Now, here are two crucial context issues for the only two red boxes in a document titled “Site Control”: 1) Given that the Governor’s Press Release announcing that Geneva was a LIHTC winner also stated that the Emma’s Landing site had been donated by the City of Geneva (which did not happen but is stated in the red box); and, 2) Given that the site also required access from a second adjacent property “control” of which is highlighted by a second red box on page 20, the conclusion is inescapable that the IHDA used informal documents improperly concealed from the public in their determination to award Burton Foundation and the controlling Fellhauer couple a large sum of money. Twenty-two competing applications were denied, and Geneva won with a trick play.
Below is the entire 48-page Emma’s Landing Document concerning control of the building site and access road. The two red boxes, one on page 20 and one on page 22 were placed by IHDA to indicate accepted documentation that the required site control was obtained.
This is crucial: On page 20 and high-lighted in yellow by me is this: “I realize this is coming at you last minute but the deadline is at 12:00 noon. Is there any way that this can be expedited. Thanks” The quote is from the Burton Foundation attorney’s communication to the Geneva attorney. In the red-box reply the Geneva attorney indicates “the form of the agreement” would be provided before the noon-deadline but that “the City Council will need to approve it.” Clearly, the “form of the agreement” was sufficient for Burton and IHDA to proceed based on the “comfort” of the Geneva City Council but without ever letting the sunshine of transparency reach the secret process.
Geneva citizens and taxpayers were played like a cheap fiddle by the Mayor, his minions, and the Fellhauers (AKA “Burton Foundation”). IHDA was either duped or gave a wink and nod when it accepted that the site was donated, raising Geneva’s Qualified Allocation Plan score high enough to cheat Geneva’s way into the winner’s circle and stuffing a couple million dollars into the Fellhauer’s pockets. Other winners exist, like Joy Nelson, who stood in as the “place holder” “owner” of the property encompassed by the fraudulent Emma’s Planned Unit Developer Ordinance and subsequently sold the property that provided the access. Many questions need answers, such as why the process was greased through on the subterranean fast track during the height of a pandemic. (Remember JBP’s evisceration of the Open Meetings Act while urging the tabling of non-urgent matters?) Who else benefitted either politically or financially (or both) from this treachery?
* Post script:
Geneva’s regression ever closer to the brink of the ethical abyss has been observable for some time. Examples of progressive moral retreats towards mobocracy are not hard to find, and some have been discussed here (Dunkin’, Emma’s, Mill Race Inn, Open Meetings Act and FOIA violations, etc.) The most recent outrage was the ceremonial charade of sanctimoniously disapproving the faux “monopine” 100-foot cell tower at Oscar Swan while simultaneously allowing the FCC’s shot clock to expire. No doubt the City of Geneva will present a protest of the foul called by Towernorth via an instant replay before a federal judge, and the City might prevail. But the unforgivable crime was to let worried and anxious Genevans celebrate their victory (which may be pyrrhic) and let them go home without telling them that the game had been played under protest. The Mayor and City Council knew about the shot clock issue when they voted. They discussed it in secret that very night.
The City of Geneva’s litany of deceptive practices has extended past the tipping point into the abyss. For me, the straw that tipped Geneva into an unrecoverable nosedive into the swamp known as “The Geneva Way” was the destruction of the historic house next door to my home of forty years.
The demolition of the historic antebellum structure used as a home and office at 314 E. State Street (most recently a photography studio and “The Curiosity Shop” a half-century ago) and its detached garage that directly abutted my home to the north has decidedly degraded my microenvironment by increasing noise pollution, increasing light trespass, destroying privacy, and reducing visual appeal. These now demolished historic structures lay within a seventeen parcel, 7.2-acre zoning district designated B(3)E and also were within the East State Street Corridor Comprehensive Plan area designated for “transitional mixed-use.” 
Now my home is abutting a new parking lot that was not constructed according to the improperly granted “special use” geometric plan. The applicant for the parking lot special use (Malone Funeral Home) had expanded into an adjacent parcel to the west twenty years ago without the required special use permit. “Somehow” the applicant got an unlawful “wink and a nod” approval from the City under the guise of a building permit for a “remodel.” (I have the tape of the apology for the “mistake” made by Mr. Untch at a City of Geneva Plan Commission public hearing a decade after the mistake. The most critical part begins at about the 6-minute mark.)
The current parking lot expansion special use permit “must” satisfy all nine “standards” enumerated in Geneva’s Municipal Code. Let us examine just the first standard: “The proposed use at the specified location is consistent with the comprehensive plan.” Below are links to the Geneva Comprehensive Plan and the Municipal Code. What, exactly, makes the demolition of a transitional mixed-use structure consistent with “maintain and use the existing structures?” And how does expanding yet again a parking lot use that was already unlawfully expanded once before consistent with not increasing the intensity of that use? The Municipal Code is clear that failure to meet a single standard causes the entire application to fail. Then the Mayor and City Council granted variances that violate several other standards. Geneva property owners no longer enjoy the protection of an honorable zoning police force, and the Plan Commission members are merely ceremonial court jesters.
Five historic structures have been torn down and the land left vacant (or worse) within a block or so of my home over the past couple of years. Others are on the brink of extinction. Worse, the very character of the community has been blighted by its current posse of lawless appointed vigilantes who stormed a city hall that was left undefended by a distracted citizenry. The next victim of these ochlocrats might be you and your neighbors.
 Comprehensive Plan | Geneva, IL – Official Website (accessed Sept 20, 2022) “Transitional Mixed-Use The area designated transitional mixed use connects the East State Street commercial corridor to the Downtown/ 3rd Street area, just to the west. This area should maintain and use the existing structures, many of which are residential conversions. While the intensity of uses should not increase, a continued mix of residential and commercial uses should be encouraged. Allowable uses within the transitional mixed-use area includes [sic] retail, commercial service, professional offices, and specialty retail.” The first of the nine Geneva Muni Code mandatory standards that “shall” (means “must”) be met to grant a special use reads: ”The proposed use at the specified location is consistent with the comprehensive plan.” CHAPTER 14 – ADMINISTRATION AND ENFORCEMENT | Code of Ordinances | Geneva, IL | Municode Library (accessed Sept 20, 2022)
The Meat Market Tax Increment Financing Heist Perpetrated by the Geneva Mayor and His Minions
On the 7th of December of 2020, a date that lives in infamy, the Geneva City Council met. The Geneva community, in general, was in a state of anxiety over the Governor’s decree ordering a pandemic lockdown and the Mayor’s Council was considering an ordinance that would make defiance of this emergency decree into a local crime.
While the school community was distracted by graver issues, the Lord Mayor and his Privy Council stole about three-quarters of a million dollars from Geneva School District 304 and the other taxing bodies. Many of the school children and their taxpaying parents did not even live in the City of Geneva, but they were robbery victims just the same. These non-city residents were also victims of taxation without representation.
Briefly, on that December night in 2020, the City of Geneva deliberated on whether to make a gift of a City-owned 0.23-acre land parcel (tax number12-02-404-019) and a $551,000 cash gift to the developer of the Country Village Meats (“CVM”) at 715 East State street. The Meat Market is on parcel 12-02-404-015 and comprises 0.52 acres. The meat market site is 0.75 acres in total. The store opened about 3 months ago in the spring of 2022.
These are the three key points that the School District 304 stakeholders need to consider.
- With a TIF City of Geneva pockets any property tax dollars that exceed the total property tax bill that was based on the EAV when the TIF district was created. This is true to the end of the 23-year life of a TIF. This is called the “TIF Base.” The EAV for the parcel that contains the CVM building was $126,876.00 for the tax year 2002. This number is the same as the TIF Base listed on the 2021 tax bill. The “fair cash value” in 2021 was $567, 234, the “fair cash value in 2002” was $380,628. BUT THIS DOES NOT INCLUDE THE GIFTED PARKING PARCEL. CVS paid about $240,000 per 0.23 acre in 2002! The total City of Geneva gift to CVM was about $800,000.
- The City of Geneva took a third of all the tax paid on the Country Village Meats property in 2021. ALL the other taxpayers in District #304 had to make up the difference. Again, many of these payers do not live in the City of Geneva.
- When a TIF district expires, all the money remaining in the TIF Fund must be distributed back to the taxing bodies from which the money came.
Here is the poignant December 2020 plea of the Mayor’s six-figure salary minion in charge of TIFs:
“Opportunity is meeting desire. There is a willing seller and a highly desirable purchaser. It has taken years to get here; the TIF is near to expiration. It has been very difficult to find a hybrid end user to occupy the entire building that offers a unique combination of storefront and warehouse. It has been even more difficult to secure an owner occupant who shares a passion for the neighborhood and for the betterment of the community. Time is of the essence for several reasons including financing obligations and timing of existing lease renewals, a backup offer and a pending closing date. Moreover, time is of the essence due to the pending East State Street road construction and as mentioned above the pending TIF expiration. If Geneva is going to attract another significant user to the east side and make a meaningful change at this site- now is the time to act.”
Wait…we were told the building was vacant. What is this about existing leases? What is this about a “backup offer?” Smells of still more Open Meetings Act violations, doesn’t it?
The Mayor and Council acted hastily like they each had an expiring coupon for 10 gallons of $2 gasoline, or half off on a side of beef.
Geneva School District 304 stakeholders must ask themselves a couple questions. Would we have preferred to get the cash back at the end of the TIF so that some of the residents of the District present when the money was paid in could benefit? Or, do we feel lucky?
Well, do we?
What began as an investigation into the uppermost image led to a search for further details about the creator of that image, F. Grice. The Grice and Conant families shared a cause: the abolition of slavery. Francis Henry Grice was a polymath whose path seemed to often cross that of the Mormons in Missouri, Illinois, and Utah. Image 1368 in the Grice Collection at the U.S. Library of Congress might depict one such intersection. The narrative here presented cannot pass for historiography. Still, few other forms of primary sources possess the fidelity of a daguerreotype, for such an original image is a true one of a kind. The right image above is likely a painting based upon the left daguerreotype taken by Francis Grice in Lucian Foster’s studio in mid-June 1844. “Proof” of the painting’s subject is provided by the fact that the man’s awkwardly depicted right hand is actually his wife’s left hand that was copied and “transplanted” from the same daguerreotype. The ring can be seen today:
If a picture is worth a thousand words, what Grice and Conant stories are yet to be told?