Proposed Geneva apartment and retail development draws comments on social media

  • An artist's rendering of a proposed mixed-use development, featuring first-floor retail and apartments above, in Geneva.

    An artist's rendering of a proposed mixed-use development, featuring first-floor retail and apartments above, in Geneva. Courtesy of city of Geneva

Updated 6/8/2020 7:08 AM

Community residents seek positions on plan commissions or run for city council because they want to have a say on how the community grows and serves its residents.

It's a noble gesture at any local government level and, at the same time, one of the most difficult when gauging community feedback on certain projects or budget considerations.


Years ago, residents would attend local government meetings, read newspaper accounts of proceedings or development plans and ideas, and then write letters to the editor to have a say.

Today, residents can make decisions about a development proposal through social media even before a city council committee or plan commission has heard the developer elaborate on submitted plans.

A submitted plan is open to the public and often posted on a city website. Via Facebook, the opinions and thoughts start rolling in.

"Social media exacerbates divisions between people," said Craig Maladra, Fifth Ward alderman in Geneva. "It has led people into entrenched positions, with everybody talking and nobody listening."

If social media sites aren't constantly managed, even the smaller outlets will become dominated by people with time on their hands and an ax to grind, Maladra added.

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Maladra is seeing a dose of it unfolding in his ward. A mixed-use proposal has come to Geneva for consideration at 609 S. Third St. on property currently occupied by Duke & Lee's service station. It features apartments with first-floor retail included on an artist rendering submitted through SUMAC/Jupiter LLC.

Maladra was not responding to questions about the proposal, as it had not even gone before a city council committee or the plan commission. I asked him if social media comments before city officials' interaction with the developer are helpful or a hindrance, regardless of town or project.

"Rapid change is discomforting at best and downright scary at worst," Maladra said. "Social media provides an outlet for people to voice their fears and frustration with change. It becomes a forum in which some people will fan the flames of fear and frustration for their own purposes."

Still, Maladra sees the benefit of hearing neighbors' concerns ahead of time. It's a natural small-town process, and one Maladra says took place well before social media became the outlet of choice.


"I consider such input as a part of the homework we need to do when deciding on something," he said. "But only part of the homework, as we also need to consider our strategic vision so that we can make decisions that are in the best long-term interest of Geneva."

Although there were comments for and against the apartment complex idea in the early social media exchanges, and concerns about the size at 60 apartments and parking situation for 65 spaces, there were plenty that quickly determined this was not something Geneva should approve. It's way too early to make that snap judgment, but I do believe this is a far better process than someone screaming about a new project -- after it has been discussed for years and is finally in the process of being built. Such was the case for some with the new Geneva Public Library at Seventh Street. Detractors came out about its size and color, and whether it was even needed -- after construction started. "Change has been a factor in Geneva for as long as I've lived here," Maladra said. Because Geneva is nearly built out, it means that change will start to come to established neighborhoods with big mansions, row homes or apartments, he added.

"There is always a voice for and a voice against, and in my experience, the voice of opposition is usually the loudest," Maladra said, stating a fact and not citing that reality as good, bad or indifferent. Anyone who understands the process of accepting a development into a city knows a developer's proposal often undergoes plenty of changes in order to get approval.

So, some folks may be right on target with their initial thoughts, but it might be better to save the final verdict for public hearings when we know exactly what the city would accept and what the developer is willing to change.

We all know something has to replace an empty gas station at this location at some point, and it's hard to envision what exactly that might be considering how close it is to the train rails and on the south side of the tracks along Third Street at Route 31.

An apartment building has to be considered a possible candidate.

Surprise for a veteran:

At age 95, World War II veteran Al Centafonte of St. Charles could probably say he's seen everything -- except what he saw a few days ago when friends and family participated in a surprise birthday parade past his home. Some participants estimated there were nearly 100 cars involved.

In addition to staying home as a coronavirus precaution, Centafonte is also recovering from chemotherapy treatments.

Many people know Centafonte as the wonderful "chef" who cooked the sauce and meatballs for the spaghetti dinners for decades at the annual Tri-Cities Exchange Club fundraisers.

He's still an active member of that club, just waiting out the virus and his health issues until he can get back to the weekly meetings with his friends.

Two years ago, Centafonte was part of a group of veterans honored during the traditionally boisterous Star-Spangled Banner opening at a Chicago Blackhawks game.

No more Riverview:

Area residents who have fond memories of Riverview Banquets in Batavia were disappointed to hear the facility closed its doors for good last Monday.

I've been to numerous events at this location and found it always to be a pleasant experience and, really, a perfect setup for most any type of gathering.

Maybe if things get back to normal, another company or individual may find the building set along the east side of the Fox River can still serve a meaningful purpose.

Making outdoors work:

If Geneva can't have a full-blown Swedish Days festival this summer, then some of its dining area fencing can come in handy now that restaurants are focusing on outdoor dining as things begin to reopen.

The chamber offered this portable fencing to Art History Brewing at 649 W. State St., Café Barr at 407 S. Third St., Niche at 14 S. Third St. and Riganato at 700 E. State St. to help those sites set up outdoor dining when they had no other real option.

Other restaurants throughout the Tri-Cities have made some really nice changes to accommodate outdoor dining. We suspect this could turn out to be a positive thing even when dining is back to normal.

The setup between the Arcada Theatre and Flagship on the Fox sports bar for outdoor dining along Riverside Avenue in St. Charles was the most crowded we spotted during last Sunday's beautiful weather. The other side at Pollyanna Brewing Company also had plenty of business.

Alter Brewing & Kitchen, a new site in the First Street Plaza, had city permission to use extra courtyard space for outdoor dining -- and it looked to be a popular choice for diners.

East from west:

It borders on impossible for me to not realize the St. Charles Municipal Building is on the east side of the Fox River, having worked or lived in the Tri-Cities area for more than 40 years.

But my brain somehow convinced my hands to type "west side" last week in my item about the work being done on the building tower.

Longtime St. Charles residents Barbara Huntley and Cynthia Foster were quick to point it out in email notes. So, I appreciate people checking in on me.

On occasion, I get confused when describing the location of a business or restaurant in terms of which corner of an intersection on which it is located. I have to think about it closely and often run it past my wife, who has a much quicker sense of direction.

But the St. Charles Municipal Building? It's silly to misplace that city icon.

I know what you're thinking. Before the days of mapping devices in your car or on your phone, was I "that guy" who would get lost and either misread or not look at a map?
You're looking at him.

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