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updated: 3/27/2012 5:59 AM

Geneva rejects demolition of Pure Oil building

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  • The Pure Garden store occupies the former Pure Oil station at 502 W. State St. in Geneva. The Geneva City Council Monday rejected allowing the building's owner to demolish it. The Geneva Historic Preservation Commission had denied the request earlier.

       The Pure Garden store occupies the former Pure Oil station at 502 W. State St. in Geneva. The Geneva City Council Monday rejected allowing the building's owner to demolish it. The Geneva Historic Preservation Commission had denied the request earlier.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer, February 2012

 
 

The former Pure Oil service station building in downtown Geneva will not be demolished.

The Geneva City Council on Monday decided to uphold the Historic Preservation Commission's February decision to deny a demolition permit for the blue-roofed building at 502 W. State St. Only three aldermen voted in favor of the demolition: Dawn Vogelsberg, Richard Marks and Sam Hill.

The vote took place at a committee of the whole meeting. Since the motion failed, the matter will not advance to the full council.

The vote came after more than two hours of discussion by aldermen, the building's owner and audience members. Most of the observers favored keeping the building.

The building, which now houses a gardening store, is in the city's federally recognized historic district.

When the preservation commission denied the demolition permit for the Pure Oil building in February, it did so based on 10 federal standards for preserving buildings in historic districts.

But the council considered only one of those standards, because the other nine would be moot if the first was not met. Namely, that a historic property shall be used for its "historic purpose" or be placed into a new use "that requires minimal change" to the building.

Aldermen asked questions about the economic and technical feasibility of restoring the building.

Building owner Joe Stanton argued Monday that the costs for repairs and renovations to bring it up to code and outfit its interior for offices, restaurants or a store are hardly minimal. It is not insulated, it has hydraulic lifts and an automotive fluid drain under its floor, it is heated by overhead heaters instead of a furnace, there are no handicapped restrooms, the roof needs repair and the brickwork needs tuckpointing.

Other than the addition of an emergency exit several years ago, it doesn't appear from city records that any work has been done on the building in decades. The last building permit for it was in the early 1970s -- for the installation of a Union 76 gas station sign.

Stanton's proposed tenant has estimated the cost of the work at $312,000. Combined with the $485,000 Stanton paid for the site in 2006 and divided by the square footage, Stanton said the rent per square foot he would need to charge far exceeds current market rates.

Some audience members said Stanton knew what he was getting in to when he bought the building in the historic district and therefore should be renovating the building regardless of cost.

Demolition opponents presented online and paper petitions, with 2,121 signatures, asking the council to uphold the preservation commission's decision.

"I don't think the petitions represent the opinion of everyone in Geneva," Stanton said.

The building at 502 W. State St. opened as a Pure Oil station in 1937.

Mayor Kevin Burns asked if the current tenant was receiving a break on his rent and if it was in arrears, drawing boos from the crowd. Stanton said "yes" to both, adding that the current tenant's lease will not be renewed.

Burns also asked the audience if the building was important because of what it is or where it is -- along Route 38, the historic Lincoln Highway. Hill suggested city residents could raise money to move or rebuild the building on another site and Stanton was amenable to that. However, his architects have indicated a move would be difficult and that there is a high chance the building would collapse if moved. If the building is taken apart, there would likely be only enough good brick left to reconstruct the front wall.

Liz Safanda, director of Preservation Partners of the Fox Valley, said there may be ways to alleviate the owner's economic hardship. Landmarks Illinois has offered free architectural services to review the condition of the building, she said.

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