When Does the City of Geneva Makes Losers of Everyone?


The Sage of Sandholm Street and I were conversing many years ago about a local neighborhood issue. I remarked, “Well, Gordon, you know when the City gets involved, it makes winners and losers.” He gently corrected me. He said, “Doc, you are half right. But actually, when the City gets involved, it makes losers of everyone.” The Sage lives in Julius Alexander’s old house that was built across State Street from the Dunkin’ in about 1839. The Sage moved the Alexander house decades ago from State Street to Sandholm Street to a large lot. He also has close personal ties to the Mill Race Inn site that go beyond Julius Alexander. That is a story for another time.

The garish Dunkin’ spectacle on public display at the southeast corner of Crissey Avenue and E. State Street on Geneva’s east side tells a story of official municipally sponsored decline and decay. This descent into a blighted state is accelerating because of an illiteracy problem at Geneva City Hall. An example of this comprehension deficit can be found by examining two declarative sentences taken from Geneva’s Municipal Code that are written in the English language: 1) “The proposed building, other structures and use comply with any and all regulations, conditions or requirements of the city applicable to such building, structure or use;” and, 2) “It shall be unlawful for any person to erect or maintain any building or structure which encroaches upon any public street or other property.”

The first sentence is Standard Eight of the nine mandatory standards in Geneva’s Special Use provision, contained in Title 11, Zoning. The second sentence is a regulation drawn from the Geneva Municipal Code, Title Eight, Public Ways, and Property. No dispute can arise over whether the Green Wall of Crissey Avenue encroaches into the public right of way of Crissey Avenue. This encroachment is depicted in Geneva Special Use Ordinance 2018-36, which allowed a special use drive-through after the mayor, who only votes when a tie exists, voted to pass the ordinance. Now, “any person” commits an “unlawful” act when that person “maintain(s)” a wall that encroaches upon the public right of way of Crissey Avenue.

What would Forrest Crissey say about this? After all, he wrote the book “Tattlings of a Retired Politician.” Until recently, a Genevan ascending the East side Hill passed the first home where Forrest and Kate Shurtleff Crissey lived as renters. That home, also known as the Miller-Gully House, was allowed to deteriorate under the watchful eye of a Geneva code inspector and then was demolished. The next home up the hill to the east, the Widow Stokes Home, also recently destroyed, was where August Drahms grew up. Literate Genevans might know that Drahms wrote the first American textbook on criminology.

If the reader suspects that the two cited provisions of the Geneva Municipal Code have been cherry-picked, the reader is encouraged to read “Section 11-1-2: – Interpretation.” This section will explain which provisions “shall govern.” Also included in the Code is a definition of “shall:” “May/Shall: The word “may” is permissive; the word “shall” is mandatory.”

Nowhere is the honest enforcement of plain code language more critical than in older neighborhoods where diversity in home size, lot size, and affordability is coupled with substandard infrastructure and governmental mischief. When the property rights of this diverse group of owners are ignored in favor of large corporate recipients of public money gifts such as sales tax kickbacks, TIF, grants, and wink and nod gratuitous zoning “reliefs,” demolition follows. For example, the Dunkin green wall stands while unlawfully encroaching the Crissey right of way, but the historic affordable home in the picture does not. Over the past couple of decades, the City of Geneva’s slipshod wink and nod “bending” of zoning rules has nearly destroyed my neighborhood via demolition by neglect.

Why Is the City of Geneva Making East Siders Sick?

The Short-Term Solution to PM2.5 Particle Pollution is Dilution

The City of Geneva received several years ago a $1+ Million Federal CMAQ Grant to help fund the East State Street rebuild that has been in the planning stage for about two decades. Every year Geneva announces that “next year” is when the project will start. The goal of the grant is to improve diesel fuel efficiency and to dilute diesel emissions as semi-trailer trucks traverse the east side. Route 38 is an Illinois State Designated Class 2 Truck Route. Hundreds of thousands of square feet of warehouses are popping up just to the east. Some of these have been approved by the City of Geneva. Others are in the Geneva system for approval. The PM2.5 pollution problem will increase.

“CMAQ” is an acronym for “Congestion Mitigation Air Quality.” The highest priority is to lower 2.5-micron particles. Please consider going to this website for a few minutes: The Weight of Numbers: Air Pollution and PM2.5 – Undark Magazine Watch the very brief video.

In the 1926 case of Ambler Realty v. Village of Euclid, the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed the legal basis of zoning. The Court recognized that public health protection is the basis of zoning authority, i.e., municipal zoning police power. Am J Prev Med 2005;28(2S2): doi:10.1016/j.amepre.2004.10.028 (activelivingresearch.org)

Geneva’s East State Street Corridor is primarily residential. The parcels that abut the right of way are zoned mostly for mixed uses, but people live in these one-lot deep ribbon zones, such as B3E. Residential zoning is directly adjacent.

What has the City of Geneva done to protect East Side corridor residents? The answer is that the City has repeatedly and consistently made the wrong decisions. The Burns Dunkin at the top of the east side hill is Exhibit A.

No place exists within the City of Geneva that is more ill-suited for high intensity use during peak traffic hours than the corner of Crissey and East State. The mayor snatched defeat from the jaws of victory when he broke the 5-5 tie that would have doomed the project. Fortunately, the ineptness of the applicant and the mayor’s handpicked staff has now delayed the opening for about five years. No one thought to get an IDOT permit that was required before the construction could legally begin. Or did both parties simply hope that would get away with the “mistake”? Mayoral addiction to TIF spending was the root of the problem.

Harry Chapin’s proverbial “thirty thousand pounds of bananas” were terrifying going down the hill into Scranton, PA, in 1974. Stopping the bananas halfway up the east side hill in 2023 and then having to begin the climb anew in first gear is even more terrifying.

Then another high-intensity use (written into the zoning ordinance for the benefit of one applicant) that generates congestion and PM2.5 pollution was spot-zoned for the Geneva Pharmacy so that TIF money could be again squandered. That business folded in less than a year.

When the first principle (dilution) of short-term mitigation of PM2.5 exposure demands more setback from the source, not less, the City granted a variance for Malone funeral home’s new parking lot that reduced the required ROW setback from thirty feet to eight feet. Then the Special Use Ordinance 2021-13 required mandate for asphalt was switched to concrete without the Municipal Code required City Council approval. Due to the localized thermal inversion created by the high albedo (colder/heat reflecting) cement, the PM2.5 particles will be trapped and transmitted to nearby homes and yards. The low albedo (warmer/heat absorbing) black asphalt would have had the opposite effect of diluting and dispersing the PM2.5 particles away from the ground.

Recently the Geneva City Council approved a plan to gift $1.5 million in TIF funds to the Mayor of Naperville to build a retail outlet/high-density multistory affordable residential building with the only access/egress being Crissey directly across a substandard width street from the Dunkin exit. This, too, will require spot zoning and setback variances to move the future residents even closer to the PM2.5 source just outside their open windows. And it will add even more congestion at Crissey and E. State. Absurdly, the City will give away more money to exacerbate air pollution exposure than it received from the Feds to mitigate that same air pollution.

Other examples of bonehead aldermanic and mayoral decisions largely driven by Tax Increment Financing Addiction Syndrome (TIFAS) could be raised.

Longer term, the promise of electric vehicles could reduce PM2.5 particle pollution. But young children are particularly vulnerable, as are older people and those with chronic illnesses. For now, the City of Geneva needs to stop trying to injure those whose health and welfare it has sworn to protect through its zoning police power.