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.