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Jeff Ward: Sho-Deen + Geneva, a True Municipal Love Affair

Say it ain't so! Sho-Deen and the city can't break up.

What!? Sho-Deen Inc. and the city of Geneva are at each other’s throats? I’ve got to watch those City Council meetings more often! This was supposed to be the quintessential public/private sector love affair match made in heaven, but now they’ve gone as far as trading tabloid taunts.

The only thing that might shock me more than this nasty turn of events would be aldermen Craig Maladra and Dawn Vogelsberg voting against the mayor on, well, anything.

It all starts with the Downtown Master Plan, which as it’s evolved, has begged for the installation of downtown apartments. The theory is that the inevitable increased foot traffic would positively impact our .

So, intermittently over the last 10 years, Sho-Deen Inc. has been trying to bring a multi-unit downtown housing dream to fruition. Like an enthusiastic new groom, Sho-Deen is ready to be the one to carry those new downtown Genevans across the threshold to a new urban life.

Ah! But we have a problem. As far as cities go, Geneva is well into middle age. Not only are buildable lots hard to find, but the few open spaces that exist are bristling with all sorts of challenges, not the least of which include the word that strikes fear in the hearts of developers everywhere: “zoning.”

Like any online dating service, every municipal suitor has to answer nine basic compatibility questions aimed at whether the new development will have a negative impact on their neighbors. And the Second Street and South Street parcel we’re talking about is fraught with particular peril.

No prospective condo or apartment owner wants that glorious view of the side of a parking garage and no nearby neighbor wants their home turned into the equivalent of a Broadway stage by vehicle headlights exiting the underground parking garage at all hours of the night.

The façade has to fit in, the landscaping should act as a buffer, the project has to meet criteria of the historic district, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. I could continue with more details, but as it is with all lovers' spats, the facts aren’t really that important—it’s the feelings that count. Well, that and the Daily Herald already covered the specifics pretty well.

So, this spat has gone back and forth to the point where the suitor (Sho-Deen, Inc.), faced with yet another demanding partner (the city) exclaimed the equivalent of “I can never please you,” and started humming These Boots are Made for Walking as he took his box of candy and walked right out the front door.

Making statements like, “This is the wrong damn building, but we are going to build it,” “… to be told ‘your plan needs detailed design expression’ is an insult” and “It (the downtown plan) is simply a farce,” Sho-Deen Inc. President David Patzelt abandoned a 17-unit apartment plan and pared it down to five townhomes which don’t require a public hearing.

Then City Manager Mary McKittrick stole my favorite term by calling those remarks “disingenuous” and added, “Shame on you for trying to pit the City Council against the staff.” Development Director Dick Untch said that he thought they were close to a “mutually agreeable plan.”

Meanwhile, the City Council, hearing all of this for the first time at their Jan. 3 meeting, responded to Sho-Deen with something along the lines of, “If you were having problems, why didn’t you come to us?”

Because that’s all so confusing, please allow me to reduce this entire transaction into the language of love!

Our suitor, frustrated with his coy quarry, declared, “Your lips say ‘kiss me,’ but you keep turning your head. Despite my undying affection for you, I can never seem to make you happy. Why must you always question my motives! We have a name for women like you!”

Ah! But what our shy woman really heard was, “I am the great Shodeeni! How dare you question my judgment! Don’t you worry you’re pretty little head about these real estate things, we know what’s best for you!"

Of course, if I ever dared utter something like that to my wife, I’d be walking funny for a few months.

Incensed, the coquette named "Geneva" answered her suitor in the manner of a famous girl group:

If you wanna be my lover, you gotta get with my friends
Make it last forever, friendship never ends
If you wanna be my lover, you have got to give
Taking is too easy, but that's the way it is

Then she screamed, “If I have to tell you what I really want, then what’s the point? You should know me by now! I thought we were doing so well!” burst into tears, slammed the door while our stunned suitor dropped his box of candy.

The City Council, playing the role of the formerly jilted lover, stammered, “You never talk to me anymore. Please take me back!”

C’mon folks. Geneva and Sho-Deen go together like Fannie Mae and foreclosures! You can’t break up a 40-year relationship over something as silly as apartments. Calm down, take a deep breath, let go of the anger and remember how good it was in the beginning. Remember how much you really love each other.

Think of those classic romances! Liz and Dick, Grace and the Prince, Paul and Joanne, Bogie and Bacall, Kate and Spencer, and Siegfried and Roy. You’re meant to be together. So stop fighting it. Kiss and make up and build some condos.

I shoulda been a marriage counselor.

Sandy Kaczmarski January 09, 2012 at 09:57 PM
After attending a public hearing on Shodeen's proposed Elburn Station next to the railroad in Elburn, I am struck by the rosy picture they paint. Showing photos of what it "would" look like, cute gazebo, winding streets, a Chili's restaurant as an example of the type of business they envision, I expected Roger Rabbit and his Toon Town friends to jump in singing "Smile, Darn Ya, Smile." Foreclosures across the street in Blackberry Creek are staggering, the duplexes facing Keslinger are now bank-owned and yet they talk about this wonderful future development of nearly 2,000 homes. How much money can they write off after they build these developments, rip up the farm land, even though they're empty?
John Anderson January 09, 2012 at 10:28 PM
Shodeen's sleight of hand with the "Old Mall" property in St. Charles went on for years, and he must of proposed a dozen ideas that went absolutely nowhere. One thing is for sure: he made money several times on the same parcel. While it's true Shodeen has built a lot of retail space in Geneva, it's equally true that much of that space is empty. I think anyone contemplating dealing with the man or his company would be well served to talk to past and current tenants, and to officials in St. Charles. I'm sure what they have to say would be enlightening.
Colin C. January 10, 2012 at 10:43 AM
We lived for many years in a small town outside of NY City. It was historic (from 1740), a county seat, and much like Geneva in many respects except one: developers were allowed a pretty free hand. There was zoning, of course, but it seemed that some developers had little trouble getting the variances that they wanted. The "master plan" was developed in 1974 I think, and largely forgotten. There was always a popular suspicion that these same developers contributed to local political campaigns and perhaps other things of interest to the "city fathers" but I don't remember a serious investigation. The bottom line is that when we sold our house there in 2001 it brought about half what the same house in a town ten miles away would have sold for. Our town had been destroyed by cheap, poorly planned development and absentee landlord rental housing. No one wanted to move there. If the argument is between a city trying to preserve and improve its heritage, appeal, and value and a developer trying to turn a profit I'll side with the city every time, even if they make the mistake of being too cautious because, if the error goes the other way you can't unbuild it. The City of Geneva has told a number of developers "no" over the years and has also allowed considerable development. I think that they tend to be careful, hard to bully, and have achieved a good balance. The current spat will be resolved, hopefully as a win-win for all of us.
Bob McQuillan January 10, 2012 at 04:38 PM
I suggest everyone watch the video of the meeting on the city's website. You will understand what the issue is and has been for several years. The master plan, to be released sometime this year, suggests high density housing for the downtown area. According to Shodeen, the 9 criteria for zoning approval can't be met as they are written. City staff seems to agree and called this project "a lost opportunity." The majority of alderman seemed to agree that the zoning requirements need to be reviewed and a compromise worked out. Those that voiced their opinion, agreed that this was the wrong building but Shodeen has the right to build it so they agreed to the project. Something is wrong when "a lost opportunity" is allowed to happen. I have no skin in this game and it doesn't if this were Shodeen or XYZ developer, the zoning requirements would have been the same. As I said at the meeting, Geneva can not afford any lost opportunities in the next 5-10 years. Every developer paints a wonderful picture of what they will build, it is so they can make money. It is the taxing bodies resposibilty to see through the gumdrops & candy canes and make a decision in the best interest of the entire community.
Terry Flanagan January 12, 2012 at 05:06 PM
Jeff, I didn't know you were such a romantic. But I guess with Valentine's Day just around the corner, even you may be affected. I find this whole situation interesting on several levels. First, it's been going on for some time and apparently staff thinks high-density housing is desireable, but has not suggested any zoning changes as they did when Mike Simon wanted to bring a resale shop to Third Street. Secondly, the Mayor didn't explode when staff was criticized - behavior he has often exhibited when a council member even thought of asking staff a potentially embarrassing question. Thirdly, there was some allusion to the fact that the loss of the standing committee system might be a factor in this issue. The sign committee was the last to go for better or worse. Finally, there is the whole Shodeen relationship with the city. Much of the public thinks he gets whatever he wants. So how much acting, if any, was going on and for what purpose? We also have the issue of rent. I've heard more than one complaint about Shodeen rents being too high. So you have to wonder if he's the right person to to build rentals. And give Craig a break. I know that he gives these issues a lot of thought. Anyway, the situation raises a lot of questions.

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