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Article updated: 3/21/2013 7:00 PM

Geneva 1st Ward candidates discuss downtown

Michael Bruno

Michael Bruno

Zachary Ploppert

Zachary Ploppert

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Zachary Ploppert and Michael Bruno see historic preservation differently.

That might be an obscure issue in any other town but Geneva. Or in any other Geneva ward but the 1st, which contains much of the city's federally recognized Historic District.

Bruno has sat on the city's Historic Preservation Commission for 11 years.

Ploppert sees current regulations and processes as being too burdensome in some cases, costing property owners unnecessary money and time.

Bruno believes people, including Ploppert, don't understand the financial value proper preservation and historic designation lends to properties. And he has disputed that preservation is more costly.

For Bruno, 53, his top issue is economic vitality, which goes hand in hand with his experience on the Historic Preservation Commission, he said.

"We are very lucky to have a vital downtown, and it is important to nurture it," he said.

State Street has had problems, however, he said. Vitality differs between the east and west sides of town.

He is worried about the stretch from First Street to River Lane, as far as drawing pedestrian traffic from west of First.

Another bugaboo to him was the redevelopment of the Pure Oil gas station with a drive-up bank facility.

"I really thought it was a bad municipal planning decision to allow a pedestrian impediment to sit at that intersection," he said. Cars will exit the drive-through lanes on to State, interrupting a sidewalk.

Bruno suggests that the city, if it restricts first-floor businesses to those that produce sales tax, set the boundary at River Lane, as opposed to encompassing the whole B-2 business district.

He did, however, bestow praise on the end result, at a March 4 city council meeting.

Bruno said it would be hard to re-purpose another historic building, the former Mill Race Inn restaurant at State and Bennett Street (Route 25). He envisions it being demolished, and said he thinks any developer will want the whole corner, including a brick building that long held a bicycle shop and now has a consignment store.

People have joked with him for at least 15 years, saying, "Mike, when you're mayor ...," he said. But "What really got me thinking about city council was Pure Oil. There were clearly some voices that don't understand what symbiosis, what historic preservation does for our city. We are vital because of that."

Ploppert says the No. 1 issue he has heard while campaigning door-to-door is "taxes, taxes, taxes." But he said city officials have done a good job of holding the city budget down; he would work to "holding the line" on increases in taxes and fees, such as increases in water and sewer rates.

Ploppert, 22, is a Batavia schoolteacher and works for Geneva Ace Hardware as its customer service manager. He cited an example from Ace as to why he thinks some of the regulations may hurt businesses. The store, which reopened last year, was denied approval to add the word "Hardware" to its building sign, as it was deemed as too much signage, he said. But it would have cost $600 in fees to appeal the decision, he said.

"We need to start looking at things like that," especially for small businesses, he said.

A recent proposal to keep service businesses, such as insurance agents and dentists, out of the first floors of buildings on State and on Third "is a complicated, tricky issue," he said. He said he understands the reasoning: The city believes such businesses discourage shoppers from walking farther, believing there are no more stores to see. "In theory it is a great idea," Ploppert said. But he favored tabling the idea until the economy picks up. "Is right now the time to be turning away business because of what they do?" he asked.

And as for historic preservation? He said he supports the regulations for commercial properties in the district. But he wants them loosened for residential properties.

"I don't think we allow homeowners, especially in the historic district, enough of their personal property rights," Ploppert said. He said it can be more expensive to rebuild old windows, for example, than to install new replica windows. The price of keeping up a home in the district may be keeping younger families out, he said.

"We need to open it up and let property rights flourish."

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