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QuickStory: No Demolition for Pure Oil Building

The Geneva City Council votes 8-2 against a motion that would have allowed demolition of the iconic Pure Oil gas station building at 502 West State St.

After more than three-and-a-half hours of passionate testimony, parliamentary confusion, light outages, fables, facts and catcalls, the Geneva City Council came to the same conclusion it did a week ago as a Committee of the Whole:

The Pure Oil Building will stand.

The City Council voted 8-2 Monday, April 2, against a motion that—in essence—would have allowed a demolition permit for the historic, blue-roofed gas station building constructed in 1937.

City Hall was filled to standing-room-only capacity as residents on both sides of the issue addressed developer Joe Stanton's argument that the building is not economically viable in its present form or as an adapted re-use.

The public commentary ranged from the emotional to hard facts and figures.

"I’m a walker," said Charys Wheeler, 256 Kenston Court. "What a lucky town we are to have such beautiful streets. It would be heartbreaking—unconscionable—to demolish that building. Geneva has a vision, Geneva has imagination. And Geneva cares. If we were to destroy that building, it would appear that we’ve lost our vision, we’ve lost our imagination and we no longer care."

Mitch Belon, of 1231 Shoop Circle and MB Financial Bank, ran through the numbers, from the cost of improvements to the mortgage to the necessary pricing of rental space—just to break even with an adaptive re-use.

"In my opinion, it would not be possible for Mr. Stanton to achieve bank financing," he said. "I don’t know of a bank that would be interested in that loan."

Near the end of the long meeting, Geneva Mayor Kevin Burns and 1st Ward Alderman Sam Hill asked those in favor of preserving the property whether moving the building might be an option. Hill suggested the building could be moved to a location on or near the Fabyan Forest Preserve on Route 31, part of the original Lincoln Highway. Several members of the audience said "no," arguing that the building's present location in the downtown area is part of its architectural heritage and historic significance.

A motion to table the vote to the first council meeting in May failed 6-4.

In the final vote, 4th Ward Alderman Ron Singer and 3rd Ward Alderman Dawn Vogelsberg voted "yes" to the motion to overturn the Feb. 21 ruling of the Historic Preservation Commission.

Voting "no" were Hill and fellow 1st Ward Alderman Chuck Brown, 2nd Ward aldermen Richard Marks and Donald Cummings, 3rd Ward Alderman Dean Kilburg, 4th Ward Alderman Dorothy Flanagan, and 5th Ward aldermen Craig Maladra and Ralph Dantino.

"In my view, the proof (needed for demolition) just isn’t there," Maladra said. "I’m going to vote the same way I did last week, because preservation is so important to what makes Geneva Geneva."

Colin C. April 03, 2012 at 12:00 PM
Thank you, one and all for all that you have put into this since February. We have secured a reprieve for the Pure Oil Building, for now. There is still much to be done. We now have to help Joe Stanton find a way to restore that building for the future and put it to use in a way that makes economic sense. We will be calling on you again for your ideas and your help.
Geneva History Center April 03, 2012 at 12:27 PM
As I presented last evening, there are three local architects that think the amount to refurbish the building for reuse is not as high as presented. All three are willing to work with Joe on ways to make the Pure Oil building a great business opportunity and asset to the downtown at a reasonable cost. I will send Joe their names and numbers.
Craig MacLean April 03, 2012 at 01:04 PM
There is also a garden center tenant that seems to have shown a good use for the building. Not sure why that doesn't come up much. Thanks to all who endured another long meeting to support that great building. By the way, I don't know much about procedures, could someone tell me how it was that the Mayor was able to command that this was only about a demolition permit, and that Windfall Bank could not be considered? I thought that the council was asked to overturn the recommendation of the HPC which was clearly about putting in a bank, drive through, and parking lot, and not just demolition. Dick Unch seemed to understand that. Too bad all the people who thought that another bank was part of the problem, were kept from addressing that point.
Rudy April 03, 2012 at 02:11 PM
If Joe needs a lot for a bank down town the next corner 4th and state already has a empty lot (that was once a gas station) ready to build buy that one Joe? You seem to think an empty lot is worth $600,000 and yours with building and a paying tenant is only worth $385,000 please just swap parcels. I am sure the owner of the 4th and state parcel will trade straight up! Rudy
robert langeness April 03, 2012 at 02:30 PM
Great outcome. Thank you Geneva!
Mike Bruno April 03, 2012 at 02:33 PM
Forgive me if one already exists, but is there a non-chamber body with a budget that might be able to augment downtown property owners search for tenants? I would like to see as many minds as possible contemplating potential tenants for any *vacant*, downtown storefronts along with a budget to advertise in regional or national publications. I would volunteer for such a commission.
Mike Bruno April 03, 2012 at 02:41 PM
I sorta understand why it would be inappropriate to discuss the merits of any potential tenant. Even at the HPC meetings we can't pass judgement on what is or is not an appropriate business (though maybe the planning commission can). I think Mr. Untch was right though. The HPC review was for the entire project including the bank, the building to the west and the building to the south. It didn't seem right that we had to limit the discussion to just the [most important] 1/3 of the project.
Sarah Marcheschi April 03, 2012 at 03:22 PM
As far as adaptive reuse is concerned, I am confused about why the building's current use is not playing a more central role in discussion. It seems that keeping a tenant who is paying, according to at least one estimation at last night's meeting, rent that is above average for commercial space in Geneva, would be a more desirable option than allowing the building to sit vacant, or scrambling and spending exorbitant sums to make the building habitable for a bank, restaurant, etc.
Rick Nagel (Editor) April 03, 2012 at 03:28 PM
Geneva Patch has two more, very good blogs coming later today on the Pure Oil topic. Terry Flanagan has a post scheduled for 11 a.m. and Noel Rooks for 4 p.m. (unless the schedule is interrupted by breaking news.)
Colin C. April 03, 2012 at 04:45 PM
So would I Mike. I have already suggested an informal committee, perhaps set up by the City, perhaps by the Chamber, to guide and advise potential business owners wishing to locate in downtown Geneva. The downtown business environment is unique. It take a special kind of business to make it here, especially through tough economic times. Adding this kind of capability to an organization that can actively search for and attract the right kind of businesses might be a great benefit to Geneva. Does something like this already exist? Can we augment the Economic Development Department somehow?
Dawn Vogelsberg April 03, 2012 at 04:47 PM
The reason the potential use for the property may have been considered by HPC but not the City Council is a zoning issue. Current zoning allows for bank (with a drive thru as a special use) on that site. It would not be appropriate to allow for comments about the bank during our deliberations because a bank is a permitted use. Community opposition is valid for many decisions but not valid for denial of a use that is currently allowed. To vote to disallow an application for demolition based on the future use could be considered spot zoning. The Community Development Department is very proactive in keeping our zoning up to date for best land uses of the community. The strategic plan is a living document updated as the needs of the community change. All zoning changes happen with a several step process all inviting public comment before the final zoning text amendments are formalized.
Dawn Vogelsberg April 03, 2012 at 04:51 PM
I hope that clarifies why the discussion was limited. As Mike said, each board and commission can consider different information based on their particular charge.
Noel G. Rooks April 03, 2012 at 05:14 PM
If there is, I'm going to put it out there for the record that I would be interested in being on such a committee.
Noel G. Rooks April 03, 2012 at 05:17 PM
I see your point, but as I asked last night - if that is the case, then why were we hearing about the 350k amount for rehab as stated by Mr. Stanton? That amount was presented as the amount that would need to be invested in order to go forward with the current project presented to the HPC - the bank. In other words, if we aren't debating the project, fine. But then why were we debating the amount of money needed to rehab that property for the project we weren't supposed to be discussing? I think that's where everyone's confusion came in.
Craig MacLean April 03, 2012 at 05:31 PM
I understand what you are saying, but the vote was not to approve or disapprove demolition alone, the vote was to determine if the HPC vote should be overturned, and demolition was a part of their vote, as was the presentation made by the bank that evening before the HPC. I believe that if the discussion was to based on demolition alone, then the vote last night should have been on a request for a permit to demolish, the building alone. The vote last night was to consider the HPC position, not a separate demolition permit.
Craig MacLean April 03, 2012 at 05:41 PM
You have a great point!!!!!!!!!!!
Bob McQuillan April 03, 2012 at 06:11 PM
The changes we have seen in the business environment over the last five years demand that thinking has to change. Here is an idea: Why can't there be a pool of private investment money that is used to open new businesses in the downtown area? We can't rely on the city, state or even the banks to create economic opportunity. We must do it ourselves with creative new ways of investing in the community you live in. I'm a fan of the TV show "Shark Tank." and here is how a Geneva Shark Tank could work: 1. Interested investors pool their money together and form a LLC. Maybe $2,000,000 could be raised. 500k was donated for a turf field 2. There is a managing partner in the LLC 3. Individuals interested in opening a new business in downtown Geneva present their business plan to the GST (Geneva Shark Tank) members. A vote is taken among members to invest or not invest in the new business. 4. If GST invests, they receive a share of the business or a guaranteed return on their money. 5. They use their "profits" to invest in additional new businesses. 6. A separate volunteer group is formed to mentor the new business owners for 3 years. 7. If a GST member wants to "cash out" they can sell their shares of the LLC to another business or individual. If something like this were created and landlords charged a reasonable rent, the city of Geneva would not have a vacant downtown storefront within the next 3 years. It can be done but takes a new way of thinking.
Mike Bruno April 03, 2012 at 06:17 PM
I'm not in a position to say whether the Geneva Shark Tank is appropriate or would work, but it sure sounds fun. How about we turn it into a cable-TV reality show?
Geneva History Center April 03, 2012 at 07:00 PM
All of these comments speak to the real matter at hand which is when at all possible "Shop Local and Support your Downtown." Then maybe we won't have as many empty store fronts.
Noel G. Rooks April 03, 2012 at 07:07 PM
I think a "Shark Tank" is a interesting idea. Why not make it for the Tri Cities, though? Those whose property values are linked to more than one of the towns would probably love such a thing. Batavia's downtown is sadly a mess. Geneva's is still doing well but needs to be shepherded toward the future. St.Charles isn't in as dire straits as some, but definitely could use a kick in the pants. I think you'd get lots of interest in a Tri Cities development plan.
julie hillery April 03, 2012 at 08:22 PM
I also would be interested in becoming involved!
stix slavinski April 04, 2012 at 01:52 AM
dear ms. vogelsberg, although i have never met you, i have heard of you, and most recently because of the voting by the city council with regard to the pure oil building. i have to be honest when i say that your aldermanic reputation was at best uninspiring, but then when i viewed you at work during the last two council meetings it seemed to sink even a bit lower. one of my children had asked me how a person who had worked previously for a developer who was in the process of attempting to get the approval of the city council so that he could demolish a piece of property, could in good faith be expected to render a non partisan vote when it came to allowing or not allowing the building destruction, and i had to pause and think for a minute before answering her with "i don't know". because, if i am not mistaken, even from the supreme court on down the judges will recuse themselves if there is ever the slightest hint of a conflict of interest, and so my next answer to her just had to be, "maybe ms. vogelsberg regards herself as being a more ethical person than all of those other judges, etc"., or maybe she has her own agenda and obviously judging from your voting record on the matter, that doesn't seem so far fetched.....but only you can know for sure. so, which one is it ms. vogelsberg? are you more ethically inclined than a supreme court judge, or only doing your (past) master's bidding? rsvp
Dawn Vogelsberg April 04, 2012 at 04:05 AM
Ms. Stix: I will try to explain my position the best I can but I would prefer to speak in person or on the phone if you would be willing to email me your phone number. To begin, I co- owned a magazine with the developer two years ago but it had nothing to do with his building or his job of developer. I did consult about possible recusal because believe it or not we are not permitted by law to recuse ourselves easily because it would be too easy to avoid a difficult vote and this was just that kind of vote. I saw myself on the opposite side of many of my dear friends and people I have respected for years. I would have welcomed to be recused from the whole topic or a spring break reprieve, anything. I could have voted with the group and avoided this whole thing but that isn’t how I think. I believe that it is imperative to stand up for an issue and stand behind a vote even if it seems that you are against the grain. The ten of us often disagree about issues and can argue until the last minute knowing we won’t change each our decision but it assures that we have all vetted the issue. I realize that Supreme Court justices and recusal are a hot topic in the news but it isn't fair to compare Supreme Court with aldermen. Besides the obvious education, experience and wisdom aspects, Supreme Court justices are appointed. City council members are elected and that is why it isn’t easy to recuse oneself from an issue. More next post.....
Dawn Vogelsberg April 04, 2012 at 04:07 AM
Ms. Stix (continued) Any time there was a contentious issue it would be tempting to recuse ourselves so as to not lose future votes or elections, etc. that You may judge me on my voting record in the past 7 days but I started on plan commission in 2001 and have been on the council since 2004. My voting record has been consistent on trying to find the balance between property rights and community rights. I spoke for others when I advocated for private property rights. Today when I spoke to a reporter and he asked me whom I was actually speaking for on the pro- property rights I joked that it is a pretty big-called Republicans. In addition to that many people have reached out about supporting the private property rights issue. So to answer your questions directly -of course I do not think I am more ethically inclined than a Supreme Court justice. I also don’t have a master past or present. I am just a citizen that has worked for years in many in many different capacities to give back to the town I love. I have tried to do it with respect to others no matter what side of the vote we are on. Many of the people that spoke the most passionately against the demolition permit spoke to me after the vote without malice. We have a shared agreement of the right to express our opinion and know that we share a passion for Geneva. We may all demonstrate it in different ways but we have the same goals, the good of Geneva. more.....
Dawn Vogelsberg April 04, 2012 at 04:13 AM
Ms. Stix (continued) Finally after all is said and done, I was on the losing side of the vote and I never tried to persuade anyone else to vote my way just as no one tried to convince me. If you do not feel that my explanation is adequate please feel free to call me. I think it is much easier to understand each other in person on the phone as opposed to the comment section at end of an article.
Karl Brubaker April 04, 2012 at 01:23 PM
I have looked at every article but I can't find the answer to a very simple question. When Mr. Stanton purchased the building in the Historic District what were his intentions? Did he think the rent from a gardening shop would cover the mortgage? Did he inspect the building and assume it would need no repair? Or did he think he could buy it, tear it down and put up a bank? The building didn't fall apart overnight and it was in the Historic District when he made the purchase.
Noel G. Rooks April 04, 2012 at 01:51 PM
In the various meetings, Mr. Stanton has said that he purchased the property in order to protect the sight lines and windows on the property he owns next door.
Karl Brubaker April 04, 2012 at 04:16 PM
Thanks Noel. Did he want to build a low-rise bank then after the Pure Oil building was demolished? Or was the site-line not important anymore? Everybody buys properties with certain intentions but that's a big nut just to maintain a view.
Noel G. Rooks April 04, 2012 at 04:18 PM
If I understood the proposal correctly, the bank would take (rent? Buy? Not sure) the property next door at 514 State. Then the site of the POB would contain the drive thru and parking lot. The intention also was to raze a house Stanton owned behind the POB in order to open up more parking and traffic flow. Per the proposal, the POB was too far back on the site (among other issues) to serve in any capacity for the plan.
Katherine Filkins November 17, 2012 at 06:01 PM
I like Bob's idea.

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