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An Open Letter on Bank Drive-Throughs

The bank drive through has passed HPC review. The Plan Commission should stop it.

An open letter to the Plan Commission regarding the Pure Oil Building,


On Tuesday last (15 May 2012), Geneva’s Historic Preservation Commission (of which I am a member) approved the revised plans 502-514 W. State Street and 12 S. 5th Street. The petitioner, Mr. Joe Stanton, changed the plans for his proposed bank drive-through facility such that it kept the Pure Oil building (502 W. State) intact. Previous plans included the demolition of that historic structure and you are probably aware of the public outcry that ensued. The plan to incorporate a drive-through will require an appearance before your commission, which is why I write to you.

Before I continue, it needs to be clear that I am speaking here as an individual and not as an official representative of the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) and do not speak for my colleagues on that commission. While I, along with the rest of the HPC, voted to approve the plans, it should not be considered endorsement of the property’s use as a drive-through banking facility. My affirmative vote was only based on the fairly clear and objective standards for Historic Preservation outlined by the Secretary of the Interior. In a nutshell, the street-side facades are remaining fundamentally intact and generally meet those standards by which the HPC is generally guided. Judgment on business use is not the purview of the HPC.

My request to the Plan Commission is to consider whether a drive-through facility is in the best long-term interest for our city. Our retail corridors of Third Street and State Street are central to Geneva’s enviable vitality in the face of economic and competitive pressures. Key to that vitality is the pedestrian friendly nature of those retail corridors. I would strongly suggest to your commission that committing that amount of contiguous street-frontage to a business use that holds zero pedestrian appeal effectively isolates those properties west of the proposed banking drive-through facility. It should be obvious to even the casual observer that continued vitality for downtown is dependent on judicious and cautious and incremental building off of our current vital retail center. 

While a drive-through may, in some theoretical sense, fill a storefront, it holds no appeal to the pedestrian shoppers that Geneva relies on (nor does it generate sales tax revenue). Moreover, the storefronts in the zero-setback new construction to the west would be invisible to pedestrians standing at Fourth and State looking for a reason to cross the street. If they don’t see anything, they don’t cross the street. If they don’t cross the street, the west end suffers.

It is my opinion that approving the drive-through for 502 W. State would be a long-term bad decision for downtown vitality and economic development. Please deny the petition for the special use of a banking drive-through.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Terry Flanagan May 17, 2012 at 01:38 AM
At the business workshop held nearly two years ago in conjunction with the downtown area master planning project, business owners said they would like to see more support for local businesses, including preservation of independently owned businesses. The proposed bank displaces two independent businesses. The photography business might be considered the third independent business to have fallen victim to this plan. The proposed bank, being part of a larger conglomerate, does not match the independent business model local business owners wished to encourage. The location for the proposed bank marks the beginning of the transitional area that abuts the Third Street downtown sub-area according to the comprehensive plan. While the bank might be a fit for a transitional area, its location right at the beginning of that area probably negates the gateway effect many business owners wanted to have for the downtown area. And as Mike points out, this also has a potentially devastating effect on businesses further to the west that would benefit from a more pedestrian-friendly business. Still, it's difficult to see how this proposal will unequivocally fail to pass the muster of the nine standards the Plan Commission is given to work with.
Bob McQuillan May 17, 2012 at 05:14 AM
Lets not forget a very important point ... the rights of the property owner. Pedestrian traffic past 4th street is non-existent and has been for years. If you want pedestrian traffic then purchase some property along state street and open a business that will create it's own traffic. Till then be happy we don't have additional vacant businesses along state street.
Mike Bruno May 17, 2012 at 05:39 AM
Bob, Are you saying that we should not have zoning laws or municipal planning?
Bob McQuillan May 17, 2012 at 06:42 AM
Mike I'm saying that proper planning needs to be done but saying this plan should not be approved because it doesn't bring pedestrian traffic past 4th street isn't right. Look at all the businesses already there that don't bring pedestrian traffic. Don't penalize a property owner for something that the area already does not have. Make too many restrictions and no one will invest their money in a property that isn't financially viable. Do you own property on sate street? How would you like to be hand-cuffed on what you can or can't do with your own property? As to the Pure Gardener, I'm sorry to see the business go but the property owner has a right not to renew a lease. The Pure Gardener doesn't own the property or the building, Joe Stanton does.
Mike Bruno May 17, 2012 at 01:10 PM
@Bob There are something like 80 or 90 approved uses for that property in our zoning. A bank is one, a drive-through is not. I actually make no effort to persuade the plan commission regarding allowing the bank. Zoning is what it is and if a property owner can get a lease signed with a banking tenant, then power to them. (Not that I don't have something to say in that regard). I merely ask that they consider what *is* in their purview. Not only is a drive-through *not* an approved use and *not* pedestrian-attractive, it actually places a significant hazard in their path in the form of vehicular traffic. "Plan" is in the name of the Plan Commission. I don't know how you can endorse "proper planning" and then dismiss basic planning premises like considering pedestrian continuity, safety and convenience. Methinks I see some cognitive dissonance.
Bea A. Sitisinn May 17, 2012 at 02:47 PM
As a former bank employee [and back in the day of an especially busy drive-up window at a no longer downtown Geneva Bank] I recall many a time there was a near miss accident, as a customer exited the drive-up lanes. Now-a-days with cell phone useage and distracted drivers I can only wonder why a bank would opt to locate a drive-up exit at that location to merge with busy traffic on State Street. I only see potential problems and hope the Geneva Plan Commission takes that into consideration.
Mike Bruno May 17, 2012 at 02:56 PM
Thanks "Bea A. Sitisinn". It would be great if you can communicate that to the plan commission via the city planner (ddegroot[at]geneva.il.us) or in person when it is discussed at the public plan commission meeting (probably June 14th or July 12th). I would suggest using your real name in that correspondence. :-)
Stacy May 17, 2012 at 03:00 PM
You may think there is no pedestrian traffic there, but I would have to argue that the success of Bien Trucha and A Toda Madre has increased foot traffic in that area a substantial amount.
Bob McQuillan May 17, 2012 at 04:21 PM
People drive to Bien Trucha, park, eat and then go home. Mike you certainly are making an effort to persuade the plan commission regarding allowing the bank. That is why you wrote your letter. Your commission couldn't stop the plan and so now you want the Plan Commission to stop it because you don't like it. That is spot zoning and it is illegal. Do you want the community to vote on every decision the Plan Commission needs to make? Then it will be just like all other elections, less than 20% of the residents decide what is best for the other 80%. Let the Plan Commission follow the rules, just like your commission did. I'm sure the Plan Commission will follow the rules just like the Geneva’s Historic Preservation Commission.
Mike Bruno May 17, 2012 at 04:51 PM
Bob, I certainly expect the Plan Commission to follow the rules. The Plan Commission hears public comments just as the HPC hears public comments. Is it your contention that my motivation here can ONLY be because of sour grapes?!?! Am I not a citizen entitled to make my opinions known (while making clear that I am not offering any "official" HPC position). I certainly don't see you being limited as to what you can have opinions on. I happen to have opinions on zoning and municipal planning. Sorry if that bothers you.
Noel G. Rooks May 17, 2012 at 05:10 PM
While it can be argued that people eat at Bien Trucha and go home, I have seen the opposite, as I talked about at the HPC meeting Tuesday. The presence of the Pure Gardener has definitely lured people from BT down the street. Plus, saying that people "don't do something" is subject to personal interpretation, but those who plan cities must take facts into account. Putting a drive through in there fufills the prophecy that people won't go that way, and you kill off any pedestrian friendly west corridor. The bank is part of the approved uses for that site, for sure. But with 3 banks a stone's throw away, is it the best possible use for this historic property? I think not. Unfortunately, it is special use for the drive, and while Mr. Stanton is within his rights as the property owner, he is also still answerable to the municipality in which he lives, and the fact that said property is historic. Property righs aside, I don't think people would argue that unplanned growth is good for Geneva. Public comment is allowed, and I will be there.
Terry Flanagan May 17, 2012 at 05:10 PM
Bob, You have spot zoning backwards. Spot zoning is allowing a use for a particular parcel that is not allowed in the surrounding area. A less controversial and more legal means of doing the same thing is a variance. The proposed use for this parcel falls outside the permitted uses and so the Plan Commission will have to review it using the nine standards they are required to evaluate special uses against. One of the nine standards is whether or not the special use conforms to the comprehensive plan for the area. So city planning is a factor and any special use that does not meet the objectives of the comprehensive plan could be denied on that basis. Traffic safety is another consideration. I don't think anything Mike has said could be construed as advocating spot zoning or any illegal means of blocking this development.
Jeanne Letizia May 17, 2012 at 05:58 PM
The proposed bank drive-thru's will be very dangerous. Cars will be blocking traffic in both directions on State St. trying to enter and exit the bank. Other cars will be honking and/or zooming around, creating hazards to other traffic lanes. Drivers exiting or entering the bank drive-thru's via State St. will be in a rush or feel pressured and will make risky, sudden turns into oncoming traffic. Pedestrians, of which I am one, will be of low importance to these drivers/situations and we will be taking a big chance crossing the drive-thru area. What will the cost be to the community, City of Geneva, police and fire departments for the hazardous traffic situations and accidents the proposed bank drive-thru's on State St. will inevitably create? Is this the sense of community pride that the St. Charles (or any other) bank seeks to foster? I think not. Plain and simple, it's a very bad idea to have bank drive thru's at the proposed location.
Betty Collins May 18, 2012 at 02:50 AM
It is my understanding that people going to eat at Bien Trucha during the restaurant's busy times sometimes shop and/or walk around in the surrounding area while waiting for their tables. The Pure Gardener and its neighbors there now are great places for them to go. Also, what happens to the businesses that are already in Mr. Stanton's building where the bank wishes to go? They are mostly pedestrian-friendly businesses and will be forced either to move or to go out of business altogether.! Seems like Mr. Stanton has little or no regard for his existing tenants either in that building or at the Pure Oil Building.
Bob McQuillan May 18, 2012 at 10:05 PM
what is happening is called free enterprise. You want to save the historic building, then purchase it like Mr. Stanton did. You may not like a bank in the location but I'm sure their customers will (I don't bank with this company). If a special use permit is normally done for other properties in this situation, you can't single this one out and deny it. Mr. Stanton has the same rights as any other property owner. I don't believe we need every resident to be part of a zoning police force, nothing would ever get approved.
Noel G. Rooks May 18, 2012 at 11:59 PM
As a customer of this bank, I can unequivocally say that I *am against this location and drive through. Free enterprise is well and good, but free enterprise without oversight and thoughtfulness toward the future generaly turns out poorly. Confidence in free enterprise led to repeal and weakening of the Glass Steagall act. As a former underwriter, I can tell you that that misguided confidence in free markets and enterprise led directly to the financial meltdown we experienced in 08 and are still feeling now. Property owners do have rights, but communities also have laws and guidelines to which all property owners must abide. Since this is a special use, the PC must decide if granting this use for this property is in the best interests of the city of Geneva. Luckily, the rights of the average citizen who canot afford to buy properties to protect them are still granted to them during public commentary on such issues.
Mike Bruno May 19, 2012 at 03:26 AM
What is happening here, Bob, is called the public process and is central to our democracy. For you to suggest that the public shouldn't be involved is beyond words.
Mike Bruno May 19, 2012 at 03:30 AM
And Bob, if you haven't been following the story ; we DID save the building. This discussion is no longer aboutt the building...it's about special use and zoning and municipal planning.
Chad May 19, 2012 at 03:49 AM
Noel, every time someone points to the failings of the free market it's not the free market that failed, it's the intervention of artificial government regulation in the free market that caused it to stop functioning properly. I don't have the time or inclination to educate you, and from my experience people with a 'government regulatory' mindset are beyond educating anyway. But suffice to say it was in the bank's self interest not to make bad loans prior to the community redevelopment act which mandated that lenders provide mortgages in historically undeserved areas. This led to the no-doc loans which brought a slew of new buyers into the market, leading to real estate prices rising...and eventually collapsing when the supply reached the demand and the deadbeat buyers couldn't refi to cover their mortgage. But alas, I've wasted too much time already trying to educate a big government believer.
Justin Eggar May 19, 2012 at 03:57 AM
Either which way this goes... I think we can all agree that having the building whack-a-moled into a bank is going to cost us a little bit of what Geneva is. Mr Stanton has to make a living and I'll be the first to admit I don't have any insights as to what should be allowed with the PC. That said, I've shopped quite a few times at the Pure Gardner and "yet another bank" is not going to add any positives to our downtown area. My primary concers have already been addressed by others: 1. Even with the PO facade being maintained the building will never look the same (at least according to the mock ups we saw) again. 2. Traffic already gets a little funny downtown, will this increase risk to drivers? 3. What's the net tax gain or loss to Geneva from adjusting business entities? I'm not arguing for or against the change - I can see some rationale on both side. I am hoping that the resulting changes are a net positive to the community rather than a negative.
Justin Eggar May 19, 2012 at 04:12 AM
Chad, Arrogant comments don't look good on anybody. Noel is engaging in a conversation and we are mulling over a relatively important change in our community. Before stating that you don't have time to educate someone, please consider that nobody asked you to do so.
Chad May 19, 2012 at 04:53 AM
You're right, Justin. Apologies to Noel, but I stand by the statement that the failings of free markets are almost always a result of some artificial regulation being imposed upon them.
Justin Eggar May 19, 2012 at 05:23 AM
Thanks Chad - for the record, I agree with you by and large re: free markets. Occasionally I am concerned that an Orwellian society might result in more progress... But the socialist and communist systems haven't done so well world wide as to think they are plausible. China is a different story to some degree, but only because they are leveraging the economic disparities between other nations and themselves (ie. cheap labor) to gain. If cost to do business in china were as high as the us (or our gas prices were a bit more) we would likely have a slightly different situation. Anyways, to your point... A good deal of the time government intervention results in a negative impact to the market and I would hope most people would agree to that.
Noel G. Rooks May 19, 2012 at 05:40 AM
Thanks, Justin. I put in a great deal of time in the mortgage business, with a front row seat to the 08 debacle. I'm not sure how this led to me being labeled "big government" or "uneducatable".
Mike Bruno May 19, 2012 at 01:00 PM
At the risk of going down a rabbit hole Justin and Chad; It seems naive that many would look to a simple ideology as being the solution to complex problems. I consider myself a capitalist and market proponent but would never *ever* argue that a completely unregulated market would solve every problem or protect everything that society values. That is the pragmatist/centrist in me. Consider that the market does one thing and one thing only...extract as much money as possible from their particular market. That's cool. I would argue that it is the most powerful, self-sustaining tool for innovation out there, but it should be self-evident that that doesn't overlap with every societal value. Real solutions, more often than not, lay somewhere in the middle.
Justin Eggar May 19, 2012 at 01:45 PM
Mike, Thanks for your response. I would venture to say these issues aren't inherently complex - we make it that way. (for a variety of reasons, the most often used excuse is to be fair ie. distribution of wealth). We possibly need a simple ideology for a simple problem. Not a broken convoluted hodge-podge of systems because we've made things way more complex than they need to be. Granted, that bureaucracy exists... well, because of bureaucrats. I'm not horribly concerned with putting more money in my pockets - my concern is more along the lines of what will result in the most progress over the next thousand years. Capitalism and free markets are likely the strongest tool to accomplish that.
Mike Bruno May 19, 2012 at 04:26 PM
And down the rabbit hole we go.... Your example is NOT simple nor does a simple ideology address it...but it does save a lot of pesky, time-consuming contemplation. Complete deregulation, by its nature, will create booms and busts. Those booms (peaks) and busts (valleys) are the Darwinian way of weeding out the weak businesses (I chose Darwin because I know you are huge fan! :-) ) That's a good thing. The problem is that, when those valleys are so deep, there is just such economic devastation and human suffering that nobody is happy. The *complexity*...and where the *debate* lay... is in how do we fill in the valleys to strike the best *compromise* of weeding the weak businesses while mitigating human suffering.
Justin Eggar May 20, 2012 at 12:28 AM
Mike - I'm a little confused, I didn't suggest complete deregulation. I did suggest that we make things more complex than they have to be. As one of the most obvious examples, does the tax code really have to be as complex as it is? We could apply that same mindset to simplify much of what is occurring ( granted, for systems to integrate it does occasionally increase complexity). Just to be clear - complete deregulation is not an ideological example I was trying to make. I would say that long term progress (in a few key areas in particular) is far more important than decreasing potential valleys of human suffering. The importance of those issues trump the smaller thing until they've been resolved. Back to my point up a few posts though, I am most concerned with whatever system is most efficient in creating long term sustainable progress. Perhaps our current system is the best that there is to accomplish that. If so the great. That's funny you mentioned Darwin - I was going to make a joke about that in my response to you earlier but held off!
Mike Bruno May 20, 2012 at 03:58 PM
Sorry if I misconstrued your comments Justin. I probably distilled several separate comments and, in the context of other commenters, and was probably responding to a hybrid comment that didn't exist. ...though I certainly stand my by statement that too many people seem to prefer simple ideologies over complex thought...particularly when it comes to government regulation of capital markets.
Noel G. Rooks May 23, 2012 at 04:56 PM
At the risk of being sucked into the vortex - presenting Glass Steagall: http://www.npr.org/2012/05/19/153095800/could-glass-steagall-have-stopped-jpmorgan-loss

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