The Mill Race Inn site is a brownfield, but no one wants to talk about it. Jabberwocky rules Geneva by stuff and nonsense.
Attendees of the City of Geneva Historic Preservation Commission meeting on Wednesday evening, January 18, 2023, were enlightened about a limited set of the controversies surrounding the ca1846 old rubblestone core of the Mill Race Inn, also known as the Alexander-Rystrom Blacksmith Shop.
The meeting started at 7 pm playing to a full house. The agenda had four items, with the public hearing over the Mill Race stone ruins at the top. Chairman Zellner, a dedicated volunteer to the cause of preservation, dutifully, if not eloquently, read the proforma ground rules. This recital took thirty minutes off the clock. Then we were told the hearing would end at 8:30. The “ground rule” that caused me to sigh (inaudibly, I hope) was Code, Section 10-6-10.A9: “the merit of any proposed replacement construction or improvement shall not be a standard of review for a demolition request.” The assembly gathered to weigh the destruction of a formally landmarked historical structure against an unknown. This felt akin to having the sheriff show up at my door to inform me that I had to decide whether to move out of my house by Tuesday next. However, any thought of where I would end up if I chose to leave is strictly prohibited and must not enter my mind.
Then, the congregation was informed that the HPC had already determined the question of landmarking based on historical significance affirmatively. So, tonight was not the night to drag history into the discussion. Here, verbatim, is the agenda item as it appears on the City’s website: “Demolition of a Historic Landmark and De- De-designation of the Property.” My first reaction when I read this was, “huh?” Was this a move to re-designate the entire site as a landmark (which should happen, IMHO)? Or was this a Freudian typo? First, demolish and then de-designate? Then I remembered my Alice:
‘No, no!’ said the Queen. ‘Sentence first—verdict afterwards.’
‘Stuff and nonsense!’ said Alice loudly. ‘The idea of having the sentence first!’
‘Hold your tongue!’ said the Queen, turning purple.
‘I won’t!’ said Alice.
Off with her head!’ the Queen shouted at the top of her voice. Nobody moved.
‘Who cares for you?’ said Alice, (she had grown to her full size by this time.) ‘You’re nothing but a pack of cards!’
Mr. Patzelt, the Shodeen representative, spent most of the remaining allotted time shredding the Geneva professional staff’s work into confetti. (OK, I admit it, this brought a smile, if not a grin, to my face.) In summary, the meeting was somewhere between a hog-calling contest and a Masonic ritual.
Based on the complete lack of information about the development plan, I had planned to speak in favor of preserving the ruins. After all, the Sandborn Map of 1891 “designated” the structure with only the word “ruins.” Yet the “ruins” became Geneva’s most identifying structure for most of the following century. Anyone who ever dined in the Stone Room knows of what I speak. January 2011 was our last meal there. The Grecian chicken was superb (matched in Geneva only by Munchie P’s.) The first time I ate in the Stone Room was in 1953.
Plus, one of the contexts that determine historical significance is what happened at the site. In this case, the ruins mark the spot where a small gap between Big Woods and Little Woods coincides with an island refuge in the river and a natural limestone ford at the head of the island. Our national mammal, the American Bison, discovered that ford as early as 400,000 years ago, give or take. 15 Facts About Our National Mammal: The American Bison | U.S. Department of the Interior (doi.gov) The ford was the river crossing of an interstate highway, a buffalo trace, that took the buffalo “over the river and through the woods” on their way from the tall grass prairies of Illinois to the salt licks of Kentucky and back. As the American Bison went, so did America’s indigenous peoples.
Daniel Shaw Haight knew the Geneva site in Sandusky Precinct was valuable for precisely the same reasons that the Alexander brothers did. Haight sold out to Herrington because he found nearby an even more promising river and ford with hydropower. He founded Rockford. He and his legendary oxen built the first structures both here and there.
The MRI saga will air another episode on about the Ides of March. Stay tuned; maybe the band from Berwyn will play then.
Reports on social media that the CVS pharmacy at State Street and Bricher Road (1500 Lincoln Hwy. Saint Charles) is closing on February 1, 2023, have not yet been confirmed by a press release. CVS announced in 2021 a plan to close about 10% of its stores over the following three years, so the reports are ominous. CVS Closing Hundreds Of Stores: Will IL Locations Survive? | Chicago, IL Patch
For background on the Geneva pharmacy situation, please see:
“Geneva Pharmacy” at 501 E. State St. in Geneva failed in less than a year despite a $100K gift of Geneva taxpayer TIF money, plus the usual “Geneva Way” rewards of spot zoning, etc. The cash was not subject to a claw-back provision. Stand-alone pharmacies do not generate much local sales tax revenue, as prescription medicines are not subject to local sales tax. Companies like CVS derive most of their revenue and about two-thirds of their profits from prescription medicines. CVS has partnered with Target to house its prescription services. St. Charles, for example, is listed as having two CVS stores and Batavia and Geneva one each. Soon, if the reports are true about the west side CVS closure, only Geneva will have a non-Target housed CVS.
This may be a classic example of the adage “It’s better to be lucky than smart” when it comes to the Geneva City Council’s decision to provide taxpayer-funded subsidized competition for its CVS. Geneva’s east side CVS may capture some store traffic because of the closure of the west side store.
The old stone structure at the eastern foot of the State Street bridge that was the core of the Mill Race Inn restaurant had many uses going back to the 1840s.
The present-day rubble stone ruins of the Mill Race Inn have a legacy that includes carriage painting on its roof, which has left lead pollution of unknown quantity and persistence. The site is a brownfield: a former industrial or commercial site where future use is affected by real or perceived environmental contamination. Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/brownfield. Accessed 9 Jan. 2023.”
Unfortunately, “micro-brownfields” exist scattered throughout most municipalities. For example, small rubbish “pits” were prevalent in Geneva. Industrial areas often disposed of coal bottom ash and cinders on-site and used it for fill.
The MRI ruins have some historical significance, but the surrounding context now is far different than 180 years ago. Last spring, the City Council severed the ruins from the rest of the historic site once known as Thompson’s Woods, a place immortalized in the poem of that name by Forrest Crissey. This was a lethal wound. Without context, the structure’s future value became permanently impaired. The first blow to the ruin’s historical context was struck in 1854!
The 1854-1883-1920-1961-2022 Geneva railroad “bridge” was (and is), in reality, half-bridge and half-dam. Bridgehunter.com | UP – Fox River Bridge (Geneva) (1920) The eastern Fox River channel was dammed in 1854 by the east bank bridge buttress, which cut off the lower third of the original Herrington’s Island. The eastern channel of the river below the RR bridge to the south was thus turned into a backwater slough, which was landfilled for about 100 years as a dump (mostly with mercury-rich coal bottom ash and cinders). Well into the 1950s, the municipal waste stream was binary: rubbish and garbage, the former being dry waste not readily decomposable. Garbage dumping was not permitted in the City of Geneva dump-in-the-slough. Geneva was heated and lit with coal, making coal bottom ash and cinders a large percentage of its “rubbish.” Later the slough was used as a shooting range, adding lead to the mercury contamination. The eastern channel was diverted back into the Fox River above the east bank buttress, but it has silted in, which changed the course of the river by erosion of the west bank.
An attempt in the early 1960s was made to “re-balance” the two channels around the remaining portion of Herrington’s Island by re-opening the old mill race (which had been filled mostly with coal bottom ash and cinders) using a large pipe and a ditch that ran from above the Geneva dam to just below the State Street Bridge and into the east channel. This worked to keep the east channel from becoming a stagnant water source of foul odor. But the State of Illinois ordered the ditch closed in 1964, and the odors returned – the river is much cleaner now than it was in the last century. Geneva Attorney (and folk hero to many) Roy Lasswell, (1924-1987), retained by the east side homeowners disgusted by the stench, blocked the bulldozer with his Volvo station wagon in 1964 to prevent the destruction of the balancing bypass of the dam. He was arrested.* See the Geneva Republican February 27, 1964, p1. https://box2.nmtvault.com/Geneva/jsp/RcWebImageViewer.jsp?doc_id=9351816b-0b6a-40e9-9d50-bf1f22f4eedf/gn000000/20221210/00000217
Earlier and gradually, the width of State Street was increased, and the grade was altered by cutting into the east side hill and raising the grade leading up to the bridge. As a result, the rubblestone ruins site lost much visibility and historical context. Its vernacular industrial architecture was often altered since its original construction. And the building was often vacant for extended periods. Structural integrity was cut to shreds by added fenestrations. The 1872 Kane County Atlas map of Geneva depicts that modern Crissey Avenue was then named Batavia St., and Bennett Street/Route 25 did not exist. The ruins were on the northwest edge of Thompson’s Woods, with George Thompson’s apiary the most well-known enterprise, and his honey much sought after.
Geneva has become obsessed with preserving the ruins, while the 1.8-acre riverfront site itself is the prize that should be coveted. Geneva is ignoring the brownfield status of the entire site. What is urgently needed is an environmental survey like that done at Shodeen’s proposed 1 Washington Place in Batavia. (After five years of planning and two failed TIF Districts, Shodeen pulled out of that project precipitously a year ago.) The City of Batavia owned the property and spent more than $500K on environmental remediation, including lead and mercury.
The uses on or near the MRI brownfield site were, just like in Batavia, sources of both mercury and lead plus petrochemicals and asbestos. One must not forget that the massive Bennett Mill mysteriously burned to the ground in 1971 (3129) GHM Minute: Bennett Mill: Geneva, IL – YouTube. The structure was brick, but lead paint was used widely on the interior and exterior. A “lead ash halo” was created, and the post-fire ash and rubble were simply plowed into the foundation, and never excavated. Arson is a dark recurring thread in Geneva’s historical fabric. The Howell Foundry on the west bank moved to St. Charles after a fire believed to have been set by an arsonist. A former Geneva village president’s barn suffered the same fate.
Other brownfield uses included lead paint spraying, a cinderblock factory (cinders=coal bottom ash rich = mercury), an automotive dealership with a garage (asbestos and lead), an auto radiator repair shop (lead), two gasoline stations (lead and petrochemicals), and, of course, fill was used that was often coal fly ash (mercury). The Bennett Mill ran on coal/steam much longer than on hydropower.
Fly ash (airborne) and bottom ash (falls to the bottom of the boiler) are considered environmental hazards worldwide since they generally contain organic pollutants, and probable toxic metals like Se, As, B, V, Al, Pb, Hg, Cr, and radionuclides Uranium, Thorium.
Unfortunately, many of these uses were “grandfathered” out of modern environmental requirements such as Leaking Underground Storage Tank regulations (pre-1974 uses are exempt). Environmental lead has a dissipation half-life of about 600 years. Under Illinois’s TACO, leaking storage tank rules, problem sites are often “papered over” and not remediated. Both East and West State Street are riddled with old gas stations that have not been mitigated. No one knows how many underground tanks remain. Don’s Gas-For-Less at State and East Side Drive Aldi is an exception that cost the city several 100K$ in TIF funds. Airborne lead now is the major route for childhood ingestion in the U.S.
Ironically, Geneva went from coal (mercury) to leaded gas (lead) to diesel (sub-2.5-micron particles) along Route 38 (State). Route 38 is a State designated truck route! Geneva put a Dunkin’ at the top of the hill on a LUST (leaking tanks)/TACO (Tiered Approach to Corrective Objectives) site where residential uses are prohibited by IEPA, as recorded on the deed! But minimum wage kids can work 12-hour shifts on the site. Geneva’s aldermen approved a drive-thru at the top of the hill (the vote was 5-5, with Mayor Burns breaking the tie with his yes vote creating the “Burns Dunkin'”) that will stop the diesel trucks coming up the hill. A stopped 40,000-pound load needs a lot of diesel fuel to get back up to 30 mph, especially up a hill. This is after Geneva received $1 mil in Federal CMAQ (congestion mitigation/air quality) grants to improve diesel efficiency and air quality along East State Street!
Another consideration, albeit a bit tangential, is that the Geneva dam will likely be removed in the not-far-distant future. Please see Back to When the River Made Pearls, not Stenches – Rod’s Ramblings and Ruminations (genevanotes.com). The advantages and disadvantages of dam removal are discussed by the “Friends of the Fox” here: Frequently Asked Dam Questions | Friends of the Fox River. Removing the dams will make the Fox River friendlier to canoeists, kayakers, and fishermen. “Clamming” (and pearls) might even come back. The City of Geneva and the Geneva Park District should seriously consider how the increasing demand for access to the river will be met. If the river becomes a rafting, canoeing, kayaking “highway,” an enter/exit/rest-stop in the heart of downtown Geneva could also be an economic/tourist booster.
I do not oppose the redevelopment of the old MRI site. However, I am for doing it right. Lead, mercury, asbestos, petrochemicals, etc., pose a potential risk to current and future residents. Disturbing the site, a brownfield based on its prior uses could put contaminated dust in the air for current Geneva children to inhale. This is not covered by the current permitting process, which does not mandate heavy metal testing, For example. examine how Batavia handled a nearly identical scenario on its old industrial site on the east bank of the Fox. As the property owner, the City did a thorough independent environmental assessment beyond what was “covered” by the permitting process. Batavia found contaminants (including lead and mercury) and mitigated the site with IEPA guidance.
Notice that even though the developer (Shodeen) walked away at the very last moment, the Batavia site is now green and neat and kept that way. Unfortunately, Batavia lost a historic church but did not leave the foundation as a gaping, water-filled hole. Geneva’s similar site is a disgrace and an embarrassment to its citizens. See, for example, Kane County Chronicle, 2019/02/25: “Batavia aldermen ok lead cleanup plan: While aldermen have been sharply divided on the redevelopment project itself, they closed ranks to approve the cleanup plan, saying they essentially had no choice.”
The Geneva aldermen refuse to remove their blinders lest they catch a glimpse of the potentially serious problems they have repeatedly and irresponsibly chosen to ignore.
* Attorney Roy Selleck Lasswell, an east sider, lived at 860 N Bennett Street near Division in Geneva just south of the St. Charles line. He was a graduate of the Northwestern School of Law and served in the U.S. Navy as an LTJG in WW II. I had the privilege of knowing his wife, Carol, a court reporter. Roy’s father, Tull C. Lasswell, was also an attorney. In 1962-3 Mr. Lasswell was the Geneva City Attorney. He expressed pride in the Geneva Plan Commission. In the mid-70’s the Lasswell’s moved to Batavia.
Many sins can be forgiven, but not the Unrepented.
Geneva’s East State Street Corridor has fared dreadfully during the long reign of an overly incumbent mayor. The wrecking ball has been his favorite tool, and deceit remains his favorite political tactic. His posse has been his hand-picked inbred administrative staff. The City Council, stricken with chronic Stockholm Syndrome, have been his minions. The result has been the “Geneva Way” of deception, concealment, prevarication, secret meeting tape destruction, and fraud. Somewhere between Archduke Albert, the Pious, and Boss Kevin Burns, the Perpetual, was a sweet spot in duration for reigns. But that moment was long ago.
To the City Council of Geneva,
“As we act, let us not become the evil we deplore.” Nathan D. Baxter
My family continues to be subjected to daily nuisances, health threats, and financial exploitation from the unauthorized demolitions and unlawful constructions at 314 and 316 E State Street, Geneva.
First, valid applications for demolition permits, special uses, variances, and site plans for 314 E. State Street were never submitted to the City of Geneva. A proper public hearing was never convened. Unauthorized demolition of the historic building at 314 E. State Street occurred. Route 38Properties, L.L.C. owns this 314 E State parcel. This owner was never identified at any time in any required notice, during any public hearing, or any City Council proceedings. The property rights of this unidentified L.L.C. far exceed those of any Geneva citizen (the politically well-connected habitually excepted). Think Emma’s Landing with its fistful of shady interlocking (to the extent of actual marital bonds in one glaring case) developer/builder/ownership L.L.C.s.
Second, the parcel at 316 East State was first unlawfully used as a parking lot twenty years ago after the unauthorized demolition of another historic structure (a small early settlement period Greek Revival-styled home). The parking lot was unlawfully constructed under a “remodel” building permit in 2002. In 2022 the 316 E. State configuration was altered, and the asphalt surface was replaced with concrete. All this without any site plan or building permit that depicts or authorizes this construction.
For many months, the City of Geneva has gas-lighted and ghosted citizens by consistently failing to respond to questions about the unlawful activities described above. The City has chosen to ignore Illinois Law and specific and general City of Geneva Ordinances. The City has conspired with private beneficiaries (Malone and Route 38 Properties, L.L.C.) to create off-the-books “wink and nod” unlawful “exceptions, deviations, reliefs, and conditions.” Examples include public R.O.W. encroachments, absent setbacks, paved parkways, code-violating parking isles, islands that are too few and smaller than the required 148 square feet, obstructions in A.D.A. stalls, and others. The City went to the unprecedented extent of officially granting permission to violate special use standards.
I understand that a conspiracy is, in a broad legal sense, an agreement to commit an unlawful act. In British and some American courts, lawful acts that finish in an unlawful manner are also included (In British parlance, a ‘conspiracy to injure’; in American, a ‘true conspiracy’). Some states require an overt act. (Common law rule does not.) A common understanding among the citizenry is that “you can’t fight city hall.” A corollary is that citizens’ rights depend on the integrity of their rulers.
For example, where is the Geneva Ordinance 2021-13 mandated fence along the western boundary? Under whose authority and why was noise-amplifying, light-reflecting cement substituted for the noise-abating, light-absorbing asphalt required in the site plan codified into law by Geneva Ordinance 2021-13? Who authorized the Geneva administrative staff to gas-light and ghost citizens injured by officially sanctioned conspiratorial misconduct?
The Malone Funeral Home has been a slow-walking infamy for two decades. The expansion in 2001-2002 onto an adjacent lot (purchased in 2000) with only a “remodel” building permit was illegal. A Special Use Ordinance passed after a valid Public Hearing was required but “over-looked” under the current mayor-for-life administration. In 2012 the 324 E. State property was found to have failed 8 of 9 Special Use standards, so the Special Use was denied. (Failure to meet just one standard causes the application to fail.) That same parcel was found to meet all nine standards in 2021 when nothing had changed in the intervening years.
The 2021 special use process was flawed from the start. The applicant was unlawfully “coached” by City Staff in secret for months, as demonstrated by the FOIA/OMA Public Action Council’s binding opinion. The initial public meeting notice was fraudulent and untimely (the hearing followed the notice by many months – months lead time for applicants, days for opponents). Where is a retroactive Special Use authorized in Illinois’ Constitution or Statutes? After an illegal expansion, when does “pre-existing non-conforming” become “illegal non-conforming” in Geneva? Immediately, if the law were followed. Never, if you “know” the mayor. The City of Geneva granted the first retroactive special use ever bestowed in Illinois, but with deceit as its only authority.
I hope the City of Geneva has enough remaining decency to disband its Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Task Force. The City must walk that walk itself before disingenuously inviting others to talk that talk under the auspices of its false flag.
Once again, I ask that the use of the above-cited unlawful parking lot be immediately and indefinitely halted.
Rodney B. Nelson, M.D., F.A.C.P., former Major U.S.A.F. 23 Kane Street Geneva Illinois
CLOSED SESSION ON PENDING LITIGATION PURSUANT TO ILCS 120/2(C)(11)
Committee of the Whole Agenda item 6, December 19, 2022
“‘Twas the week before Christmas, and all through the town, not a voter was focused on what soon will come down.”
With Apologies to Clement Clarke Moore.
This Monday night, the Geneva City Council will vote unanimously to enter a secret session. They will discuss “pending litigation.” Or will they?
Geneva’s cited exception to the Open Meetings Act refers to “pending litigation.” Pending Litigation means a proceeding in a court of law whose activity is in progress but not yet completed. At least, this is the meaning understood by many of us. But the OMA exception contains other words. In America, in 2022, any statement that can be construed by anyone as criticism can be stretched into “threatened litigation.” Almost without exception, a duly filed lawsuit immediately becomes a public document. An open, honest governmental unit can certainly go into closed session to discuss a pending lawsuit with its attorneys. But why would transparency not require citing the actual filed pending complaint?
We know the City has pending legal action over its disapproval of the Oscar Swan cell tower. Is this the subject matter for Monday night? An interested citizen likely will never know.
Here is A Parable of Emma’s Landing. On February 25, 2020, the City of Geneva improperly informed its most favored developer (other applicants existed, such as MVAH), the Burton Foundation, that the Geneva City Council had approved Emma’s Landing in secret the night before and had also agreed to donate the City-owned land. The Burton Foundation forwarded this City of Geneva’s email “approval and donation” document to the Illinois Housing Development Authority. Citing the Geneva faux largess, IHDA awarded Emma’s Landing application bonus points based on the communication. A hefty sum of money was at stake, and only half the contestants advanced to the next round. A recording of February 24, 2020, clandestine nocturnal City Council Emma’s Landing discussion existed. The OMA exemption invoked does not exist. This recording may have been an audio tape, but in 2020 it was more likely in digital form.
Burton Foundation won the competition through the City of Geneva treachery. On October 31, 2022, a Geneva citizen, citing the Freedom of Information Act, requested a copy of the recording of the February 24, 2020, secret meeting. Recordings are required under Illinois law. On November 7, 2022, the City Council, in secret session, voted unanimously to destroy the tape and release the printed minutes of the meeting (which have not yet been found on the city website). As seen in the email threads below, The City of Geneva played a “hide the peanut” shell game with the requester, who never found the peanut.
The requester has been “deemed” a frequent FOIA pest by the City of Geneva, which put in place a one-month (“21 business days”) embargo on his requests for information. The Illinois FOIA law allows this designation but never requires it. Who (and under what authority) imposed this restrictive status on the requester’s civil rights has not been divulged by the City.
Document 1 Below: A “Special” Meeting sets up an ambush since it is not on the schedule. This meeting invoked an OMA exception that contains this: “purchase, lease or sale.” No OMA exception contains this phrase.
Document 4: The City’s ambush tactics worked, and the peanut shell game was rigged from the start. Please scroll to the highlights. Note that once again, the City cited a non-existent OMA exception. At the bottom, you will find the November 12, 2022, FOIA second request for the audio recording. Democracy dies in darkness.
Twice within two weeks, a concerned citizen requested FOIA access to an audio recording of an improperly convened secret session. The decisions unlawfully made were unlawfully communicated to Burton Foundation by an unauthorized City employee. First, the recording was not released, and then the recording was destroyed a week later. A forensic search of all the City Hall laptops could “un-erase” the recording. Nothing can remove the soil and tarnish from the character of the mayor and his handpicked staff. The City Council is legally the responsible entity that “owns” all this deception.
For illustration, here is one example of how Geneva enforces its health, safety, and welfare provisions contained in its Municipal Code in the case of the Malone applications for simultaneous special uses and variations.
This is one of the standards that must be met “3. Character of the Area: The applicant must show that the variation requested will not be materiallydetrimental to the public welfare or materially injurious to the enjoyment, use or development ofproperty or improvements permitted in the vicinity; will not materially impair an adequate supply of light and air to properties and improvements in the vicinity; will not substantially increase congestion in the public streets due to traffic or parking or increase the danger of flood or fire; will not unduly tax public utilities and facilities in the area; or will not endanger the public health, safety or welfare.”
a. Setback Variation – The character of the surrounding neighborhood would not be significantlyimpacted by the approval of the proposed variation nor will endanger the public health, safety or welfare. The variation would allow the parking lot to encroach closer to the E. State Street right-of-way, but would not cause any line-of-sight issues for traffic along the corridor. The on-site parking lot for the existing commercial building located at 314 E. State Street that is proposed to be removed as part of the proposed parking lot expansion currently has a parking lot street yard setback of 0 ft. For comparison purposes, there are other commercial establishments within the vicinity of the Malone Funeral Home along E. State Street with varying street yard setbacks for parking improvements. The on-site parking lot serving the Munchie P’s commercial center has a parking lot street yard setback of 25 ft. The parking lot serving the future Geneva Pharmacy and Gen Ho has a parking lot street yard setback of 12 ft. Additionally, the reduction in the setback would allow for additional on-site parking for thefuneral home, which is intended to reduce the demand for parking on Nebraska Street andcould improve traffic and reduce congestion. [emphasis added]
Above is the Malone response. The section in italics is almost pure whataboutery; the bold section addresses an alleged benefit but does not address endangering human beings. The above paragraph convinced the P&Z Vigilantes and City Council that the standard was met. Notice the response skips addressing this phrase entirely “…[nor will be] materially injurious to the enjoyment, use or development ofproperty or improvements permitted in the vicinity.” HOWCould tearing down two continuous overlapping 20′ to 30′ tall structures directly between your house and Route 38 NOT increase the noise nuisance materially at your house? The P&Z vigilantes and the obsequious Council mayoral minions skipped over this mandatory finding requirement completely and dutifully granted the variance.
But the standard can only be met by explaining how it is met. Stating what is “intended” and what “could” happen is akin to the old proverb: “If wishes were horses, then beggars would ride. If horse turds were biscuits, they’d eat ’til they died.” I kicked the slats out of my crib the first time I heard this.
The “whataboutisms” in the first part are akin to telling the officer when you roll down your window that you were just trying to keep up with the traffic and that everyone at the party was drinking the same punch. The zoning police in Geneva would not only buy your excuse, but they would also take out their wallet and give you a roll of cash.
I live in this neighborhood. I have to joke about it to hold back the tears. This standard might have been met if the plan included fixing the horrors of Nebraska. But other violations are plentiful, some even more egregious. I hope the vigilantes and the council get a bountiful supply of biscuits for Christmas.
The two links above allow Genevans an opportunity to compare Naperville City Government with Geneva City Government as they address comparable issues.
The City of Geneva recently approved this: “Establishing Basic Parameters for a Public Private Partnership and a Redevelopment Agreement to Induce a Mixed Use (Commercial- Residential) Building at 122 E. State and 130 E. State.” Unfortunately, a definition of “basic parameters” was not provided. Nonetheless, the Geneva Aldermen unanimously agreed to these “parameters.” This carte blanche is a de facto approval of the project before anyone outside the Geneva City Hall knew about the proposal. One alderman declared the proposal “checked all the boxes” for a TIF grant.
In a few minutes, a Naperville resident can find their city’s Planning and Zoning Commission’s discussion and action on the Great Western Flooring building at 720 N. Washington Street, Naperville. See the first link above. The Naperville video has an index, unlike Geneva’s, where the viewer must get past the mayor’s opening monolog and then search by guessing. The Geneva City Council recently voted to destroy audiotapes of some of its most notorious secret meetings. Is this what Genevans expect?
Washington Street is Naperville’s “main drag.” Washington has a level grade and is four lanes wide. By using the second link above, you can take a google “drive” up and down the street and around the block, plus get an aerial view. Across the street, the sidewalk is contiguous with the curb, which puts pedestrians within a couple feet of a busy traffic lane – just like much of East State Street in Geneva. On your google drive, you will note that no semi-trailer trucks are present – this is very unlike Geneva’s State Street.
The GWF building at 720 N. Washington is obviously scaled larger than its immediate neighbors, but some larger buildings are within a block. The setbacks vary widely. The uses of the residential buildings are mixed, and only a few still seem to be strictly residential. The aerial view reveals that alleys behind the Washington Street mixed-use structures cleanly separate the mixed uses from the strictly residential adjacent uses. Importantly, the Naperville GWF building apartments have reserved parking and an entrance from the back alley. The rear facade of the building is hideous.
The Naperville approval process was not tarnished by prior approval of “basic parameters” by the Naperville City Council. So at least the appearance of a fair and open deliberative process was preserved. Geneva, on the other hand, will send to its Planning and Zoning Commission a site plan whose “basic parameters” are already approved. The Geneva P&Z vigilantes, whose members were all hand-picked by an entrenched mayor, will go through the motions knowing that a “not recommended” conclusion is already foreclosed.
A nearly identical building to Naperville’s was presented to the Geneva City Council by Great Western Flooring and was approved on November 7th, 2022, before members of the neighborhood had seen even the rudimentary schematic.
However, Illinois Route 38 has a steep grade at 122-130 E State, which is a designated Class II Illinois State truck route. The building will be on the corner of State and Crissey Ave. That intersection is already occupied on the opposite corner by an intense use fast food two-lane drive-through with an exit onto southbound Crissey and an entrance just around the corner on State. The street access for the new GWF building is not depicted on State Street. This means that the twelve residential units and all the commercial uses will compete with the drive-through traffic within about 70 feet of the Crissey corner. Crissey is a two-way street in name only. Vehicle parking is allowed on the east side of Crissey, making it almost impossible for two medium PU trucks to pass. Remember that for much of Geneva’s history, Crissey was named Batavia Street. In many ways, Crissey and State is an intersection of two state highways: Routes 25 and 38.
Let me remind you that TIF1, which had shovel-ready projects on the river already approved, never produced the promised pot of gold at the end. The housing bubble that popped in 2007-8 took back all the “increment,” and the TIF grant recipients were the first ones in line to file assessment appeals, right behind the mayor. Speculative real estate investing is not the job of the mayor.
A fundamental problem with Tax Increment Financing districts is that they distort land use economics. Geneva’s TIF2 and TIF3 have been followed by the demolition of five historic antebellum residential structures within or abutting the TIFs. Consolidation of parcels is encouraged by TIFs and has been a stated goal in Geneva. The City has even purchased parcels with this rationale. But the Comprehensive Plan does not call for this, and it even specifically eschews demolition. Intellectual dishonesty underpins that schism and demonstrates the proforma nature of the plan document. Zoning rules are bent to the breaking point, with special uses married to variances in defiance of the plain language of the Municipal Code’s mandatory standards for granting special uses. Malone Funeral home now occupies six separate parcels in the block due east of the GWF proposal, and funeral homes are not a “by right use” in Zone B3E.
The Geneva City Council has already promised as a “basic parameter” that it will spot-zone the GWF building and donate $1.5 million. The City Council should kick its TIF addiction and stop rewarding land speculators and developers with cash gifts while ignoring safety and health risks. The embarrassment of the Geneva Pharmacy debacle should be a lesson learned. Remember how the Council voted down a proposed claw-back provision? The $850K gift to Country Meats was exorbitant and unnecessary. Can we be completely certain that a recent pedestrian death was not caused by a distraction created by a sign with a scrolling text message? A vehicle traveling at 40 mph covers about 60 feet per second. A driver concentrating on the road in the real world needs about 2 seconds to begin braking. An average driver with good brakes and tires might cover a few hundred feet before achieving a complete stop. Microsoft Word – Vehicle_Stopping_Distance.doc (nacto.org) An elderly person struck at 25 mph has about a 30-40% chance of dying as a result. Impact Speed and a Pedestrian’s Risk of Severe Injury or Death – AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety
The City’s silly talk about local sales tax revenue (zero on prescription drugs and minuscule on groceries) is an insult to taxpayers. Building forty-five fraud-ridden $500,000 taxpayer-subsidized townhomes (Emma’s Landing) as a solution to a mythical local affordable housing problem was irresponsible. This was done while taxing the working stiffs and retirees living in their own houses out of town. Now the Council is about to demand more affordable housing at 122-130 State that will also add to the burden of its constituents, even without counting the $1.5 million it plans to give away to GWF.
The Council must overrule the mayor’s addiction to giving away money and concentrate on making Geneva affordable (attainable) again for current and future lower-income residents. I want the neighborhood that I chose over 40 years ago for its diversity back again before it is completely torn down.
Footnote 1: The long-awaited East State Street rebuild that has been in the works since 2002 and is now “scheduled” to start in 2024 overhangs all this. Geneva received a $1+ million Federal CMAQ Grant for this project several years ago. The money has sat, with negligible return, in an off-the-books TIF slush fund where it’s value is rapidly decaying via inflation. “CMAQ” stands for “congestion mitigation air quality”. Federal Programs Directory: Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) Improvement Program | US Department of Transportation Neither the Geneva City Council nor the Geneva PZC has considered this critical issue. Air quality near major truck routes is dangerously poor in large part due to lethal sub-2.5-micron particles originating from diesel engines. If one wanted to pick the spot where unimpeded diesel traffic should be optimized on East State Street, that spot would be the intersection of Crissey and State at the top of the hill. Geneva has knowingly sabotaged the CMAQ goals through its foolish and short-sighted focus on TIF funding for all comers. Stopping or slowing semi’s going up the hill violates the most basic principle of land planning: protecting the health and safety of residents. Here is the back story on Herbert Hoover’s greatest contribution to his country: The Real Story Behind the Standard Planning and Zoning Acts of the 1920s (planning-org-uploaded-media.s3.amazonaws.com).
You automatically lose your property rights under the Geneva Zoning Ordinance and Comprehensive Plan if you invest in or own property on your own dime.
“We don’t make investments for the business, we make them for the property,” Bruno said. ”It checks the boxes for me in terms of how we use TIF monies.”
Geneva Alderman Bruno, as quoted in the Kane County Chronicle, Nov. 10, 2022
TIF Districts are financially ruinous in Tier 4 school districts like Geneva 304. Higher-tier school districts get off-setting reductions in EAV that partially compensate for the school’s funding loss via increased State of Illinois dollars. Geneva #304 is “over-funded” by the criteria of the State. But as bad as the cash drain is for Geneva #304, the free side orders that come with a made-to-order Geneva TIF gift violate basic fairness, a trait that used to be important to Genevans.
Consider the above Geneva aldermanic quote about the Great Western Flooring project at 122-130 East State Street. His boxes have been checked without any testimony from anyone. Then drive by the vacant Geneva Pharmacy a little more than a block east of the GWF site that operated for less than a year. The Geneva City Council determined, as required by the TIF statute, that “but for” their gift of Genevans’ property tax money, the pharmacy could not exist. This was a TIF gift used to create a made-to-order specific pharmacy use. The Council simultaneously made “pharmacies” a permitted use in Zone B3e JUST FOR that TIF applicant – not even a Special Use, but a full “by right” use. In other words, it was “spot zoned” for the sole benefit of one user and his specific use, neighbors be damned. Bruno’s quote is pure twaddle. GWF will also be spot zoned, and that has already been approved.
The 800-square-foot one-room Geneva Pharmacy structure will be difficult to re-purpose, and the building’s historical character has been forever lost. “But for” that foolhardy gift, everyone involved would have been better off. But the current Administration and Council worship at the TIF altar. Note that the local sales tax on prescription drugs is zero. Just a bit further east on State Street is Country Meats, recipient of about $850K in public assets, including a land “donation” and TIF gifts, plus the usual array of freebies. The total Illinois sales tax on unprepared groceries is 0.75%. The local share is de minimus. The tax on a $50 steak dinner at Foxfire is about $4 or more.
Below is a photo of the Great Western Flooring building in Naperville. No “but for” TIF gift for the Naperville building was needed. “In spite of” zero TIF dollars, somehow the building was built and taxed with the taxes going to all the taxing bodies.
If the second building looks similar to the first, that is no coincidence, as the second building is a schematic copy of the first. The GWF folks showed up at a Geneva City Council meeting on November 7, 2022, with a less than $100 computer simulation and looking for a fast and easy loose $1.45 million. Did they bring a proforma? No. Were any data presented about how long the payback would take? No. Was the TIF money the only financial incentive? Maybe. But is there also a sales-tax kickback in the offing? Tax kickbacks are among the Geneva Council’s favorites grifts. How about utility hook-up and permit fee waivers, as per usual? Does Geneva have any other flooring merchants? The Council does not care about fair and level playing fields, despite their avowed belief in the vague principle of equity.
The Council also uses TIF as a Swiss army knife (a versatile tool that performs poorly in its every application). For example, affordable housing has been thrown into the GWF mix. What does that mean, exactly? Another “LIHTC” project that reduces property taxes even though the “I” in “TIF” is increment? BTW, no money is in the TIF3 fund in play, but with smoke and mirrors, the City Council can find some. The $1.4 million will tap out TIF3 for its duration. What about the Mill Race Inn and the Bottling Works, which were statedly the impetus for creating TIF3?
Below please find an annotated copy of the Executive Summary of the November 7th GWF sales pitch from the City of Geneva’s six-figure salaried TIF boss. I mention the salary only because Geneva taxpayers already have invested much more money in this project than the applicant has. Below is the Executive Summary. It is riddled with errors. Pay particular attention to the “possibly one or more design exceptions.” These are the under-the-table perks that come free with a TIF grant. This is how neighbors and their quality of life and property values get blindsided. “Reliefs” and “Deviations” are awarded even though these are not codified or defined in the Municipal Code. In other words, the Council dons its vigilante hat. This “posse comitatus” deputizes the city staff. The Council and staff grant “wink and nod” uncodified exceptions. They issue building permits based on specifications contained in an “approved” geometric plan. Then the applicant changes the plan. Then the building inspector does not “notice” the changes. For example, check the Malone Special Use Ordinance’s Geometric Plan and inspect how the project was built. Use Google Earth Pro to see if the lot coverage is within specifications. See if specified materials were utilized, etc.
So, with your TIF order, you can choose your zoning designation and permitted use. You get to incorporate yourself into the Geneva Comprehensive Plan regardless of how these freebies affect neighborhoods or neighbors’ enjoyment of their property and their property values. If you need a stark reminder of the futility of TIF’s look at the ruins of the Mill Race Inn, one of many failed TIF1 recipients. Notice the nicely coordinating window treatments of another TIF1 beneficiary at 10 W State. The window treatments all say, “For Lease.” Geneva Place’s highest tax bill was in 2006 ($157,600). Last year it was $114,000. How’s that for an increment? Geneva Place, an alumnus of TIF1, is now in TIF3.
The Burton Foundation owns the land adjacent to Emma’s Landing. James “Iceberg” Bergman (15) James Bergman | LinkedIn purchased that land for $650,000 in June of 2021, but the tax bill was mailed to the Burton Foundation. The land had been owned by the person listed on Emma’s Planned Unit Development and with her name recorded with the Kane County Recorder as the owner/applicant of the Emma’s Landing PUD. This was fraudulent. She was neither the PUD owner nor the PUD applicant. The City of Geneva was both. The City applied to itself for a PUD using a surrogate as a Trojan Horse. Only an owner can apply for a PUD per the Geneva Municipal Code. Without the adjacent $650,000 parcel, there was no access to the PUD. Without the PUD the $650,000 sale almost certainly would not have occurred. Who got the $650,000? You guessed it: the fraudulently certified and recorded faux applicant. Oh sure, some post facto “correction” of the PUD was clumsily “recorded” by the Mayor without the required authorization from the Council. But by then, the swindle had already been perpetrated.
You are correct if you get the sensation that smoke and mirrors were in play here and that the City of Geneva started the smoker and was holding the mirrors. Remember the “donation/discounted sale” flip-flop that the Illinois Housing Development Authority “missed” with a “wink and a nod”? Above is the 2021 property tax bill for the $650,000 parcel. Just to show how simple this is: 1) The parcel was purchased (actually an option to purchase) by Iceberg Bergman; 2) The 2021 Tax Bill was sent to ELA LLC C/O Burton Foundation; 3) The sole manager of ELA LLC is Emma’s Landing GP, LLC; The sole manager of Emma’s Landing Group LLC is The Burton Foundation, a 501c3 Tax-exempt Corporation. The sole employee of the Burton Foundation is Tracy Manning, President, with a 2020 compensation of $183,615. see: 2020-363839126-202112849349301306-9.pdf (guidestar.org). The Chairman of the Board of Burton Foundation filed for personal bankruptcy in 2015 see: Case 15-80195 Doc 1 Filed 01/28/15 Entered 01/28/15 16:00:59 Desc Main Document Page 1 of 60.
Genevan’s can rest assured that each member of the City Council, performing his or her due diligence to meet their fiduciary responsibilities to Geneva taxpayers, knew all this. They also knew that Tracy Manning’s husband was the project builder and cost estimator for the Emma’s Landing project. (Remember her “he gets a paycheck” testimony?) The Council also knew that Manning’s application for LIHTC funds certified that no identity of interest was present among and between the principles, such as between the principal sponsor (Mrs. Manning-Fellhauer) and the builder (Mr. Fellhauer). The Council also knew that when identity of interest is properly declared, an independent, disinterested third party must perform the cost estimate. The Council also knew, according to HUD postings, that shenanigans with cost estimating are a common source of fraud in LIHTC-funded affordable housing. GAO-18-637, Low-Income Housing Tax Credit: Improved Data and Oversight Would Strengthen Cost Assessment and Fraud Risk Management
Back to the adjacent parcel owned by Burton Foundation through a daisy chain of semi-opaque LLCs. The 2021 market value of the adjacent parcel was pegged at a “fair cash value” of $222,000. But below is an entry at the bottom of the 2021 tax bill:
The Assessor knew that his assigned “fair cash value” was about 1/3 of the actual market value. The Geneva City Council determined that this was not a problem since the rest of the taxpayers would be forced to make up the difference, and they did without a whimper. School District #304 and the other victimized taxing bodies agreed.
Now, what about Emma’s Landing taxes? The answer to this question is much easier. No tax bill of any kind was sent to anyone for the tax year 2021, payable in 2022. At least none appears in the Geneva Township Assessor database. Remember, the Council’s “Emma’s Fact Sheet” stated that Emma’s Landing would pay taxes “like everyone else.” Well, unless everyone else also pays nothing, and everyone else is taxed under the same State tax-discount statute as Emma’s Landing, the “Fact sheet” was fiduciary malpractice by the City Council in its purest form. What clandestine plans have been made for the 3+ acre adjacent property?
Love your country and your city, but eternal vigilance is the price of Life, Liberty, and Property. Trust, but verify everything.
$1.4 million taxpayer gift slated from TIF3 fund that contains no money.
At the Same Meeting the City Council Voted to Destroy the Tapes of the February 2020 Meetings that Created Emma’s Landing Fraud (See Footnote).
Viewing the tape of the November 7th meeting at City Hall was deja vu all over again. Ironically, the only entrance/exit for the 6000 square foot retail, twelve apartment, three story building will be on Crissey Ave. opposite an exit from the Dunkin TIF project on Crissey. The new building will be on top of the site of the now-demolished structure where Forrest and Kate Crissey first lived in Geneva, and where Augustus Conant first preached. A block or so west of the new TIF building is the now vacant building of the failed Geneva Pharmacy, another “TIF money down the drain” City of Geneva gift recipient. Wasting millions of tax-payer dollars collected by Illinois’ most regressive tax (property tax) only makes living in Geneva less affordable for those already here.
The phrase “but for” was not heard in this discussion. The City must “find” factually that “but for” taxpayer largess, this project would not happen. Several Council Members lauded a similar project by the same developer in Naperville. When asked if that project had received Naperville TIF funds, the answer was “No.”
Has anyone seen the Geneva District #304 School Board in the last couple of years? Most of the TIF money will come from the School District via the property tax payers. Much of #304 is not in the City of Geneva, but those homeowners will also subsidize this project.
“Written on Veteran’s Day 2022: To the Geneva City Council – The Illinois Housing Development Authority believed that the City of Geneva donated the Emma’s Landing parcel. IHDA cited this donation in its announcement that Emma’s Landing was a “winner” of a large LIHTC grant. IHDA used a communication from City staff based on a February 2020 closed session improper vote to conclude the land was donated. Emma’s Landing IHDA QAP application was given “bonus points” based on a donation that never happened. In Geneva City Hall, if you are not cheating, you are not trying. “Transparency” does not exist.
This is my final FOIA request for the February 2020 closed session tapes from the City Council and Cow. I have requested them in the past.
Democracy died in darkness on your watch. The funeral is over.