Geneva to vote Monday on controversial plan for new historic district

  • The owners of a South Batavia Avenue property protest a proposal for a new historic district that would include the property against the owners' wishes.

      The owners of a South Batavia Avenue property protest a proposal for a new historic district that would include the property against the owners' wishes. Susan Sarkauskas | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 7/5/2019 7:22 PM

Once again, the Geneva City Council finds itself dealing with the issue of whether a neighborhood should be made a historic district over the objections of some property owners.

It will vote, at a special meeting Monday night, whether to create the South Geneva Historic District. The proposed district includes 29 addresses, generally south of Cheever Avenue and north of Peck Road, east and west of South Batavia Avenue.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The owners of 13 of those addresses have formally objected to the district. Because more than 20% of owners objected, the proposal needs at least seven "aye" votes out of 10 aldermen and the mayor to pass.

Three of the five original applicants for the district now object.

Alderman Robert Swanson lives in the district. The application indicates Swanson and his wife support creating the district.

In June, the Historic Preservation Commission voted 6-0 in favor of the district.

Opponents have argued the process was flawed, including that the city's historic preservation planner suggested adding properties to the application and advised applicants on how they could design the district to avoid objections that would trigger the need for a supermajority vote.

They note that the houses were built over a long time, from the mid-1800s to the 1950s. And at least some believe that it isn't fair for the city to put a property in a historic district without the consent of the owner.

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A group called Friends for Fair Preservation opposes the district and criticizes the city.

Signs saying "No historic preservation without owner consent" dot lawns throughout the neighborhood.

The application, the objections, city worker's reports, minutes of preservation committee meetings and other materials can be viewed on the city's website, on the "South Historic District" part of the "Development Projects" page.

It is the second time a historic district has been considered for the area.

The idea of creating a second historic district encompassing the area started growing after the teardown in 2004 of a 100-year-old limestone house, one of two matching houses built on Shady Avenue by Henry Bond Fargo, former mayor of Geneva and a co-founder of the Wells-Fargo company.

The city started studying a potential district in 2010. Residents of the area protested and persuaded the city to stop the study until the city's historic-preservation law was reviewed.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The opponents back then argued against preservation without owner consent. The city did update its historic preservation law but retained provisions for declaring landmarks and making historic districts without owner consent.

Proponents of historic preservation argued that without such abilities, the city would have lost some local landmarks, including the Riverbank Laboratories site once owned by Col. George Fabyan.

Historic districts must meet criteria set by the federal Department of the Interior. Properties in them are subject to special rules when it comes to additions, exterior renovations and demolitions. The Historic Preservation Commission gets to review such changes.

Monday's meeting is at 7 p.m. It has been moved to the county board room at the Kane County Government Center, 719 S. Batavia Ave.

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