City planners and consultants spent the first half of Wednesday night’s meeting showing an audience of about 100 people all of the wonderful things Geneva could be—and the second half assuring them that it probably won’t happen.
The city's newly minted first draft on an inspiring Downtown Master Plan outlines seven “opportunity areas” for development to take place. Among a score of fascinating ideas were:
- A downtown “woonerf,” or designated city gathering place, generally on three sides of the historic , where curbs would be removed to create a public meeting area for festivals and big events.
- A business park where the old Burgess Norton building sits, between Stevens and Peyton streets.
- An extension and re-routing of Seventh Street that "punches through" all the way to State Street.
- A “roundabout” where Third and First streets intersect, in front of Duke & Lee’s auto repair and towing service and the.
- A replacement for the , possibly a "boutique hotel," with the addition of row houses and a mulit-story residential building "nestled into the hillside" on the east banks the Fox River.
- Layered "mixed use" development along Hamilton Street, facing the Methodist Church and Hi-Hat House, with alleys in the back, below-grade parking, ground-floor retail and upper-floor residential space.
- A bicycle bridge across the Fox River at Stevens Street that would connect two major bicycle routes. Bike lanes and walking paths would be added throughout the city.
- A library campus on Richards and State streets, with two options—one with a library at Richards and Hamilton with parking in front all the way to State Street, the other on State Street, west of Richards Street, on property the Library District does not presently own.
- "Shoreline multi-family" on the West Side of the river from Ford Street and past Stevens Street, including "adaptive re-use" of the existing commercial bottling building.
- Row housees on James Street between Seventh and Ninth, replacing automotive businesses and residential buildings that are there now.
- Five prospective, multi-level parking lot sites.
- A commercial building fronting State Street, where Bicycle Heaven is today.
- A City Hall in the present library building, and a civics center in today's City Hall.
The list goes on and on in a beautifully presented, 75-page document filled with maps and images to help people visualize "what could be."
Residents and business owners commenting Wednesday almost unanimously praised the city and the 16-member committee that helped shape the plan, but they also repeatedly expressed concerns about creating a document that—in many cases—shows their business or residence being replaced by grand land uses.
Speakers weren't asked to give their names Wednesday night, but here are some of their comments:
"I own a building at 610 S. Third St. I’d like to see the west side (parking) of Site 7 taken off your plan. I think doing this is counter to what you’re all about. At the site I’m talking about, you have three mid-century buildings, circa the 1950s, improved and remodeled by owners and tenants—which really is, I think, what Geneva is known for. I think we’ve successfully re-purposed these buildings, and removing them is counter to Geneva’s history."
"My family has been on that corner (Duke & Lee's) for quite awhile. Geneva does not want automotive in another area, so it would be impossible for me to find another area to go to. ... That’s my dilemma. Yes, everybody has to have a vision, but I understand that things can be worked out, too."
"I think right now, Geneva ain’t ready for a roundabout," said Art Kaindl. "A roundabout requires a lot of space, because you have traffic that’s crossing lanes, and it’s rather difficult in a small space. The land isn’t there for the way they have it."
"My concern is, a lot of the areas targeted are current businesses," former School Board member Leslie Juby said. "Even though this is a 20- to 25-year plan, I’m just afraid that a lot of areas targeted have put money into their businesses or are considering that."
John Housal of Houseal Lavigne Associates, LLC, presented the plan in a slide show. About 80 percent of the plan's cost was funded through an Regional Transit Authority planning grant.
Community Development Director Dick Untch answered questions, and Economic Development Director Ellen Divita commented at the podium.
Divita stressed that the plan is simply a concept for the use of public property and private property.
"The plan doesn’t say the city’s going to come in and condemn anything," she said.
Housal agreed, and said his group made extra effort to ensure the language of the document did not discourage businesses and residents from investing in their property or making their own bold plans.
"This is predicated on the notion of willing buyers and willing sellers," he said. "We’re not recommending coming in and making this happen ... One of our founding concepts is, any plan or ordinance that discourages reinvestment is a bad ordinance."
"The plan here is not to squelch investment," Untch said. "We need to look at our zoning regulations, because there is a lot in this plan that our zoning regulations wouldn’t allow."