Should last Mill Race Inn building be a landmark?
Geneva historic-preservation advocates are gearing up for the next round of a fight to save the last remaining piece of the former Mill Race Inn, a limestone building at least 170 years old.
The Geneva committee of the whole on April 9 will discuss whether to designate what's left of the building as a historic landmark.
The Historic Preservation Commission voted March 20 to recommend landmark status over the objection of the building's owner, the Shodeen Family Foundation, which is run by the same people who own the Shodeen real estate development and management companies.
The Shodeens applied in December for a demolition permit from the building department. Geneva resident Fred Zinke then nominated the building for landmark designation, which put a halt to action on the demolition request.
If the building is designated a historic landmark, the preservation commission gets to decide whether it can be razed.
Zinke is the husband of HPC Commissioner Carolyn Zinke, who once called the building "a perfect nugget" around which a developer could build something new. Carolyn Zinke did not attend the March 20 meeting.
"We are disappointed that the Historic Preservation Commission ignored the requirements that are set forth in the (preservation) ordinance and proceeded to form an opinion that is based on personal opinion and not on facts," Dave Patzelt, president of Shodeen, said.
He also said the process is "flawed." A memo from Shodeen's lawyer detailed reasons they believe the application was incomplete and should not have been considered.
"The application was mostly prepared by a city staff member, and he is the one who reviews it," Patzelt said.
He was referring to the part of the landmark application where Zinke was supposed to detail why the building is historically, aesthetically or architecturally significant.
Instead, Zinke wrote "See attached pages 1-30." The attachment is a 30-page city report about the property written in January 2014 by the city's historic preservation planner.
According to city communications director Kevin Stahr, city staff conducts a pre-application meeting with every applicant to discuss what items are required for a complete nomination. "Other than holding this standard meeting, city staff did not assist Mr. Zinke and Mr. Campbell with completing the required application," Stahr said,
And the city "does not require that an application be of the applicant's own authorship," he said.
Save and reuse?
According to the objection, the building's walls are too heavy and too fragile for it to be moved elsewhere or to be incorporated into a new development. The company has not presented any development plans to the city.
The Shodeens contend the building is in danger of collapsing, and has no architectural or aesthetic significance.
"The subject property at any given time has been converted, remodeled, reconstructed, demolished, burned (more than once), painted, repainted, enlarged, flooded, altered, modified, shored up and substantially rebuilt no less than what appears to be 20 times over the past century and one-half," attorney Kate McCracken wrote.
But proponents of saving it argued there should be an independent study of the building's condition to determine its soundness. The Landmarks Illinois preservation group has offered to evaluate it.
The building was the second constructed at the site and was built circa 1846, 12 years after settlers moved to the area. No one knows what happened to the first building.
At various times it was an industrial building, used by a papermaking company, a wagon-making company, a barrel-making company and an automobile-related business. By 1964, it was enveloped by additions.
In 1933, the Mill Race Inn tearoom opened in the 1846 portion of the structure. The restaurant closed in 2011, and the rest of the complex was demolished in 2016.
Since the owner is objecting to landmark status, it would take a two-thirds vote of the city council to so designate the building,
Zinke's nomination, and the Shodeen's objection, can be found in the commission's March 20 packet on the city website, geneva.il.us.