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Jeff Ward: The Pure Oil Building Should Stay Right Where it is!

Talk about burning political capital like it's an unlimited resource!

Asked and answered!

That’s what any reasonable attorney would argue. And if you ask me, the question the mayor and downtown property owner Joe Stanton asked was answered quite emphatically.

The motion to overrule the Historical Preservation Commission’s 5–1 vote sparing the 502 W. State Street Pure Oil building required a supermajority—that's seven votes. Ironically, it failed by that same 7–3 margin.

But despite beating that horse to lifeless pulp during the course of a four-hour March 26 COW meeting, they’re trying to resuscitate that very question tonight (Monday, April 2).

Since coaching indoor soccer prevents my attendance, at the risk of coming off like local preservationist Liz Safanda who rambled on at that COW meeting—twice—I will offer my closing arguments here.

Mayor Burns! You are officially a bully!

You darned well know three things always happen during any contentious council meeting: (1) someone will threaten to vote you out of office; (2) a petition will be presented on one side of the issue; and (3) 20 percent of public speakers will get emotional.

We, the people of Geneva, expect you to rise above that inevitable storm and represent the best part of us.

So help me to understand how it's appropriate for you to respond like a petulant high schooler to the DeKalb woman who implied you should be removed from office?

How is it appropriate for you to act as if a potential boycott of the St. Charles Bank, whose officers want the Pure Oil space for a drive through, is akin to a North Korean invasion? When government fails to heed its citizens, a boycott is their right. Had the vote gone the other way, I would've called for one myself.

What was the point of your dismissal of the petition to preserve that iconic building? Making fun of that effort only made you look petty.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, then you hauled out Pure Oil tenant Craig McLean’s dirty laundry for all to see.

And by the way, Mr. McLean denies he’s in arrears on the rent.

My rebuttal to your contention that Patch commenters “exercised the identical behavior they're trying to stop” when taking you to task is, you need to grow up! You’re the mayor, and they’re not!

I’m convinced both you and City Manager Mary McKittrick thought you had this one in the bag. You made the rookie lawyer mistake of asking a question before you knew the answer. Then, incensed with a vote that went against you, you lashed out at everyone in sight.

Since you’re suddenly so enamored of property owners’ rights, let’s talk about precedent!

You seem to have forgotten that, while you were mayor, the city forced a James Street property owner to fork out $70,000 in legal fees for the privilege of installing vinyl windows that perfectly matched the historical originals. So how can you turn around and say, with a straight face, a “property owner” has the right to tear down a historic building?

I’ll answer that one for you. You can’t!

Mayor Burns, your too-predictable council shtick is getting old, and my only solace in this particular application of that boorishness is that the people of Geneva will not soon forget it.

Joe Stanton! Does the city of Geneva owe you one? You bet we do! But like that savvy lawyer who knows when to cut his losses and settle, you really ought to be smart enough to see that this ain’t the one.

When I visit downtown Geneva, it means Kevlar and an awful lot of ducking. When you walk down Third Street, they drop rose petals at your feet. Why would you risk a reputation that took decades to build on a move that will destroy it in one short week?

You knew exactly what you were getting into when you bought a historic building in a Historic District. You knew the structure’s limitations as well as its rehab prospectus.

The irony is, you purchased that landmark to prevent someone else from doing exactly what you’re trying to do—break the covenants and demolish it!

The only possible rationale for your willingness to risk that good faith is you guessed wrong on the real estate market, and now you’re seriously overextended. But as much as we love you, Joe, it’s not up to us to bail you out of a bad speculative venture.

If your petition was an attempt to get folks involved in a Pure Oil solution, then I’d be the first one to say it was a brilliant maneuver. But if you’re really going yo go through with your request to have the City Council reconsider its position, then I have some pre-owned Kevlar I’d be willing to part with cheap.

Drop it, Joe! I’m convinced that if you work with these newly energized citizens, a solution to everyone’s benefit is imminent.

City Council! Stand your ground.

The mayor, Ms. McKittrick and Joe Stanton thought you’d simply rubber stamp this one, so they didn’t bring their "A" game. But if you don’t come prepared for the trial, after the gavel comes down, then no judge on the planet is going to give you a second chance.

Now they’re just wasting your time. Though he told the Chronicle he suddenly wants to continue the conversation, that’s only because the mayor didn’t get his way! As for moving the building, even Mr. Stanton said it’s virtually impossible, and there’s a reason people drive that historic Route 66.

In order for you to raze this icon, you have to find that the HPC was wrong. You have to prove they were derelict in their duty. And there’s absolutely no evidence to support that claim.

What further economic feasibility study do you need other than Mr. Stanton already has a tenant? Despite all the mayor’s bluster, whether or not this particular business owner pays his rent should have no bearing on your decision.

And Alderman Vogelsberg! if you don’t recuse yourself from this vote—which you certainly should—at least have the courtesy to admit that having previously worked for Joe Stanton could be considered a conflict of interest.

St. Charles Bank! With recession-weary folks shooting sideways glances at financial institutions as it is, the publicity this ongoing battle will generate can’t possibly be helpful to your bottom line.

Though readers may regularly point out just how insignificant I am, this is big news in the Chronicle and The Daily Herald. Were I part of the preservationist group, and the Geneva City Council reversed themselves, the first thing I’d do is picket your Route 64 building.

Yikes! 1,200 words? That makes me almost half as bad as Ms. Safanda! I should have been a preservationist!

Noel G. Rooks April 02, 2012 at 12:40 PM
Don't worry, Jeff...I'll be there. I'm sure Mayor Burns, Mr. Stanton and the COW will be tired of my smiling face by the time this is all said and done. Winning by sheer stubborness? Remains to be seen.
Jeff Ward April 02, 2012 at 01:10 PM
Noel, Who could get tired of you? Now, me, on the other hand... Jeff
robert poznanski April 02, 2012 at 02:08 PM
What is it that could possibly have any bearing on this problem? (money) Why do property owners,who have historic buildings, always seem to want to "destroy them? (money) What possible good does Mayor Burn's see in allowing historical landmark's. to be destroyed ? (money?) Why would the decisions of a majority of the board,twice questioned, be revisited, again? (money) So, lets please, get over it! Money, does rule the "world!"At least,its obvious, in this case, Jeff!
Mike Bruno April 02, 2012 at 02:16 PM
Jeff, Don't get me going on the "James Street property owner" issue. 1) the windows were not identical and 2) you (like most) miss the real legal take-away on the property. The ruling was actually *strongly* supportive of the historic preservation ruling and the property owner was notified via mail just *weeks* before his window replacement that he would need a permit and HPC review. Still, the original windows ended up in dumpster. Upon appeal; the ONLY mitigating factor was that a judge thought it confusing that non-structural window replacements required a permit within the historic district while the rest of the city did not. As a result, now EVERYONE in the city requires a permit even for non-structural window replacements. You know where to send your thank you cards.
Terry Flanagan April 02, 2012 at 02:18 PM
When Jeff Ward starts sounding like the voice of reason it may be time for the Mayor and Joe Stanton to consider a new strategy. I'm having a hard time buying into the economic hardship claim anyway. I would categorize rental property improvements and compliance with regulations as a cost of doing business and many of these costs can either be directly expensed or depreciated. A prudent business owner, and Joe certainly fits that bill, has to be aware of these costs up front. I'm hoping that the newly energized citizens Jeff refers to come up with a way to work with business owners and help preserve our historic buildings. It would be nice to have a fund that could be used to provide zero, or next to zero, interest loans to business owners to help rehab historic buildings. The fund could possibly be started from charitable donations, perhaps with opt-in contributions on the city utility bills.
Mike Bruno April 02, 2012 at 02:18 PM
Oh....and thank you for supporting the Pure Oil building and the HPC decision.
Jeff Ward April 02, 2012 at 02:25 PM
Terry, When Jeff Ward sound like the voice of reason it's time to head for the fallout shelter. And you're right about the fund. That's something I'd be more than willing to see my tax dollars temporarily go towards. Jeff
Jeff Ward April 02, 2012 at 02:28 PM
Mike, The real issue and question there is, where was the mayor and council on property rights back then? Either you're for property owner rights or you're not. And regardless of the judges ruling (he took the easy way out), the next person that challenges that window law will likely win too. You can only take historical preservation so far! Jeff
Mike Bruno April 02, 2012 at 02:34 PM
Windows are one of the most important components when preserving a building. James Street was actually a pretty easy ruling for the HPC. The great irony of that situation is that, had it come before HPC, we probably would have approved window replacements with better architectural features.
Denise Fauntleroy April 02, 2012 at 02:34 PM
"...And we will probably be judged not by the monuments we build but by those we have destroyed." ~New York Times editorial, 10/30/1963 regarding the demolition of Penn Station. Same could be said in 2012... Thank you Jeff for adding volume to the voices of the citizens of Geneva.
Craig MacLean April 02, 2012 at 02:46 PM
Jeff, just to clarify...I never denied that we owe money to our landlord, I disputed how much. It is from 2008 when our bank (Amcore) failed. We have been making our rent payments since then. This really should have no bearing on tearing down the building. I only responded because Mayor Burns felt it should be part of the discussion. If he feels our financial relationship with our landlord is important, he also ought to know that we are paying above market rent. I believe that we have been good for our landlord financially, and for helping to make his part of town more attractive.
Mike Bruno April 02, 2012 at 02:59 PM
...and, respectfully, Jeff... You miss the point. The preservation law/ordinance was *unambiguously* upheld. It was only the fact that the permitting rules were different inside and outside the district. That disparity was the *only* victory the James St. property owner had...along with now forcing the entire city to pull permits for window replacements. You can send your thank-yous to James Street.
Colin C. April 02, 2012 at 03:05 PM
A wonderful article. 1200 words? You said what has needed to be said in public all along. In defense of the "Woman from DeKalb" who "threatened" the Mayor and Council: she is a member of the Illinois Board of the National Lincoln Highway Association. I invited her to speak on behalf of our Nation's beloved highway which passes right by the Pure Oil Station. We call it State St. She simply recounted the history of what happened in DeKalb seventeen years ago. The Mayor and City Council ignored public opinion and allowed the demolition of an historic post office on their section of the Lincoln Highway. It was replaced by a Walgreens. The result was that the Mayor and several Council members were not re-elected and that to this day many residents of DeKalb still refuse to shop at that store. That was the history of what happened there. I think that the Mayor chose to take it as a personal threat. Small detail. It's not Rt.66, it's the Lincoln Highway. It was and is the very first fully paved transcontinental highway in the USA and, unlike Rt.66, which is newer and much shorter, is still largely intact. I understand that it's popularity as a tourist attraction is rapidly growing. Great time to be tearing down that which makes it popular! The Council can vote, by a simple majority, not to hear this issue yet once again tonight. If they want to see Mr. Stanton's full presentation just read the minutes of the HPC meeting. Save us all another four hours of agony.
Mike April 02, 2012 at 03:06 PM
I'm not a preservationist/ history buff, but like most of us, I've driven through towns that have gutted their once-historic areas during past periods of economic downturns. These towns are never as economically viable as the ones who have stayed true to their heritage. The right thing is really a no-brainer, here. Not sure why it is being rehashed after the council already made the correct decision
Rudy April 02, 2012 at 05:47 PM
Craig you held yourself to a higher level than most people would in the COW meeting last week for that you should be applauded. I think it’s was repulsive how the Mayor insisted on airing land lord tenant private business in public as he did. I for one think $4800.00 per month for that little unimproved building is borderline criminal. I have had a house vacant next to me for 5 years now how much money are they making off of it. To insinuate you are a hardship to Mr. Stanton and Geneva is way off base. Really Mr. Stanton is asking to tear down a building we as citizen of Geneva put on our pamphlet promoting our town??? It would be like committing community self mutilation to tear this beautiful little building down.
Walter Larson April 02, 2012 at 09:37 PM
How many banks does Geneva need? Banks do not generate a steady source of income(sales tax) for the city, county and state. The pretense that it may cause people to shop in town is a bunch of mullarkey. Look at all the empty storefronts. Get them open again and maybe the town will come alive again.............
Tom Lichtenheld April 09, 2012 at 02:39 PM
An entertaining, well-crafted rant, and all valid points. Now we need some cool heads from both sides to convene, figure out how to purchase the property, and save it from "demolition by neglect" which, if you read between the lines, is clearly Mr. Stanton's plan.
Tom Peterson April 09, 2012 at 10:20 PM
I was born, educated, lived, and worked in Geneva before retiring to South Carolina some six years ago. I fondly remember the Pure Oil Station when I was a young child as my dad used the station for tuneups and gas for his car. I also used the station for my cars as I grew up. Whenever we return to Geneva it is such a familiar building that we surely would miss it if it were no longer there.. They do not design buildings like this anymore. Please save this building for future generations.

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