Owner asks judge to allow historical Geneva blacksmith shop to be razed

Court filings: Shodeen claims Geneva erred in its denials; city attorney requests alleged errors be specified

GENEVA – The Shodeen Family Foundation is asking a judge to overturn Geneva’s denials of its request to de-designate landmark status and allow demolition of a circa 1840 former limestone blacksmith shop at 4 E. State St.

The three-page court filing Oct. 27 names the city of Geneva, the City Council and the Historic Preservation Commission as defendants as it seeks judicial review of the officials’ denials.

The Historic Preservation Commission recommended the requests be denied Aug. 15. The City Council upheld the denials at a special meeting Sept. 26.

The court filing asks for review and reversal of the city’s final order “and all related decisions, rulings and orders because they were erroneous and contrary to the governing law and the relevant facts.”

“The plaintiff’s applications met the requirements set forth in the Geneva Code,” according to Shodeen’s filing.

Attorney Ronald Sandack filed the city’s response Nov. 27, asking the judge to require Shodeen to be specific about the errors it alleged.

“Given the lack of any specificity within plaintiff’s complaint, defendants’ motion should be granted requiring plaintiffs to identify any supposed error upon which it seeks reversal or other court intervention,” according to Sandack’s three-page filing.

A hearing is set for Dec. 20 before Circuit Judge Kevin Busch on Sandack’s motion, court records show.

Developer Shodeen Inc. created 4 East State Street Holdings, LLC, to buy the Mill Race Inn’s 1.4-acre property at 4 E. State St. in 2014, according to Kane County property records.

Later, the owner was listed as the Shodeen Family Foundation.

Shodeen demolished the portions of the former iconic restaurant on the Fox River that were additions to the original historic limestone structure.

The city designated the former blacksmith shop as a historic landmark in 2018 after Shodeen Inc. applied for a demolition permit, halting the demolition.

At the time, 1st Ward Alderperson Michael Bruno said the 30-by-50-foot limestone structure was “possibly the oldest remaining building in Geneva and if not the oldest, one of the oldest.”

In October 2022, the Shodeen Family Foundation filed an application to de-designate the historic landmark status and allow the demolition to proceed.

Demolition is allowed but only as a last resort if the owner has no other alternatives, according to the city’s code.

The issue was disputed by David Patzelt, representing the Shodeens, and preservationists.

The Historic Preservation Commission held a hearing in January, which was continued to March, April, May, June and July, when testimony was closed.

Patzelt spoke about the poor condition of the limestone structure, based on architects’ analysis for repurposing and restoring the structure.

Patzelt cited the AltusWorks architectural firm’s assessment: “severely deteriorated, poor condition, missing limestone, cracked mortar joints, not properly mortared joints, unstable, no longer stable. … The existing structural remnants of the original … building are only marginally stable.”

City consultants Teska and Associates and The Planera Group said if $1.7 million from a tax increment finance district were to be applied in a public-private partnership, the structure could be saved and repurposed. A tax increment financing district – known as a TIF – is a development tool used by local governments to encourage development or redevelopment in blighted areas that would be too expensive to improve with private dollars alone.

Patzelt posted a sign on the building in March stating the structure was for sale for $1 – land not included – to stress the impossibility of restoring it or moving it.

Preservationists Kendra Parzen, the advocacy manager for Landmarks Illinois, and Al Watts of Preservation Partners of the Fox Valley spoke about saving the old structure.

Landmarks Illinois designated the blacksmith shop as one of the most endangered historic places in the state in both 2023 and 2018.

“In 2018, Landmarks Illinois included this building among the most endangered historic places in Illinois,” Parzen said at the Jan. 18 hearing. “This circa 1846 blacksmith shop is one of the oldest surviving commercial structures in Geneva and it’s an important structure associated with Geneva’s pioneer era.”

Watts said the structure has viable uses – such as a kayak or bike shelter, community room, fitness room, sales office, marketing tool for their property, photography backdrop, open air garden that does not require a roof, open air patio, small outdoor concert venue or restaurant – none of which the owners would consider.

“The applicant, as a property owner, has a right to choose what they wish for their property,” Watts said. “When their property is a historic landmark, it possesses a shared heritage within the community, giving the public a right to weigh in. This is why the city has a historic preservation ordinance with a high, but not insurmountable, bar for approving the demolition of a historic landmark.”

Before the City Council voted at the special meeting in September, Historic Preservation Commissioner Jewel Jensen spoke of the hours of testimony the commission heard.

“These early buildings are tied to the community’s earliest settlement and is a rare resource in the Geneva community,” Jensen said. “The unassuming, modest limestone building is the earliest surviving example of the water-powered industries that once lined the Fox River.”

Jensen blamed the owners for the structure’s unsightly appearance, saying they did little to maintain or preserve it since 2016.

At the special meeting, Shodeen attorney Kate McCracken urged the council to support demolition, saying the applicant had exhausted all feasible alternatives.

“This structure needs to be demolished,” McCracken said. “It is a structure that is no longer in existence. It is a function of rock and stone that is disintegrating – and it is not disintegrating as a result of anything the … owner has done.”