120 apartments, 8 townhouses could be coming to old Mill Race Inn site

A developer got preliminary approval Monday for a project for the old Mill Race Inn site that would include as many as 120 apartments, eight townhouses and 2,000 square feet of commercial space.

The Geneva City Council was asked to officially agree - through an ordinance - to what they are ultimately willing to approve for the site at State and Bennett streets, on the east bank of the Fox River. The council did with a 6-4 vote.

Besides the site of the former restaurant, it includes a building on the corner that currently houses a consignment shop and a bicycle repair business. The project, including some work on riverfront amenities for public use, is estimated at $38 million.

The city agreed in April to split the cost of a planning charrette - a workshop to design the project - with the Shodeen Family Foundation. So far, the bill is $106,700. It also has to pay for half the costs of the "entitlement process" - meaning review by the city's community development department, the plan commission, the Historic Preservation Commission and the city council.

The charrette was conducted June 24-27 by Hitchcock Design Group.

"This is a pretty expensive vote," Alderman Mike Bruno said. "This is a supercritical property. I always felt it was worth taking a gamble with some pretty serious dollars to get a pretty serious solution."

But aldermen Tara Burghart, Gabriel Kaven, Richard Marks and Becky Hruby voted against approving the parameters for the height, commercial space and number of homes.

"How does this not handcuff the plan commission?" Burghart asked. She wondered what would happen if the commission disagreed with the size or the height of the project.

Members of the community were invited to give input and ideas during the charrette. Several speakers Monday night said the plan doesn't reflect what they spoke about.

"It does little to reflect the voice of the participants," Tom Lichtenfeld said.

"I cannot help but feel that the development project had been decided on in advance," said Colin Campbell. He called the third night of the charrette - where Hitchcock presented a preferred proposal supposedly based on the previous nights' work - "an extensive sales pitch."

Campbell suggested putting three of the four options discussed in the charrette out to a survey of the public. One of those options was to build only a 10,000-square-foot restaurant on the site. The other two included townhouses, or townhouses and apartments.

Alderman Craig Maladra said the sketches presented Monday night are preliminary and that details could be worked out through the staff and plan commission review.

Alderman Michael Clements said what he said during the charrette was not reflected in the proposal. But he was loathe to stop the process.

"If we close the door, I don't know when it will open again. I fear this will sit here for years, and years," Clements said.

Speakers Monday night said they were afraid building a 60-foot building, even though some of it would be below ground, would block the view of downtown Geneva one sees when approaching from the east. They argued against Hitchcock's contention that the building was appropriately sized because it would be about as tall as the Geneva Place apartment building kitty-corner; the speakers said Geneva Place is too tall.

"How does this not handcuff the plan commission?" Alderman Tara Burghart asked.

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