This Tuesday (May 15, 2012) the Pure Oil building will once again be before the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) to review new plans for the property. What was once considered an unworkable re-use plan has now become workable. Hmmm... (You can view the plans here.)
In the way of review; the property owner wished to demolish the Pure Oil building (present home to The Pure Gardener) to accommodate the drive-through lanes of a hoped-for banking tenant in his neighboring building. That demolition elicited, in my experience, an unprecedented outcry from the community. The demolition was denied in not one, not two but three public hearings.
The property owner, Joe Stanton, will be presenting to the HPC a plan that will fundamentally preserve the street-facing facades and use the existing garage bays as the drive-through lanes. Clever enough, and it preserves the street-side facades of the building. Though the disposition of the garage doors will likely elicit discussion, I expect the plan will be approved by the HPC with little change.
It does, however, resurrect the oft-heard sentiment during the previous outcry of “What do we need another bank for?” Well, I wish to do my part in fleshing out that discussion.
I’ll start by saying that the Mr. Stanton and the St. Charles Bank & Trust (the potential tenant) are doing nothing wrong and are playing by the rules. In this case, they both have certainly taken their lumps in very public forums. It appears that the process has cost one or both of these petitioners some significant dollars to this point.
That being said, I find it hard to imagine a property use that would be less in keeping with Geneva’s treasured downtown. It seems that a critical component of our downtown is that each neighboring property (for the most part) is an attractive, inviting retail business. If you are leaving business "A" and see business "B"just 40 feet away, you might go check it out. If you have to cross a long retail-devoid stretch of property to reach some more shopping, that can become a Sahara Desert isolating the two sides.
Heck, you might not even see other retail establishments that might exist across that desert. If a pedestrian shopper reaches this void and can’t see a reason to cross it, then they turn around. A bank drive-through, traffic and a bank is part of that desert and holds zero attraction for pedestrian shoppers (and zero sales tax potential.) The implications for downtown vitality should be self-evident.
It is my understanding that this plan, if approved by the HPC, will have to go through the Plan Commission for the special use of incorporating a drive-through. What I don’t know is whether the Plan Commission is bound to rule on more objective matters like traffic and safety ... or whether they can consider the question on many lips of “What do we need another bank for?” I hope they can answer that question.