Geneva OKs warehouse annexation amid heated debate, split votes

Hruby: ‘Annexing this land to bring warehouses to our home is solely a developer win’

A proposed 211.43-acre annexation on Geneva's east side to be developed as an industrial park. The Planning and Zoning Commission recommended approval of the petition.

The Geneva City Council on June 17 approved an annexation agreement with Midwest Industrial Funds – now renamed MWI Property Group – after more than two hours of debate, more than five split votes and a bit of profanity.

The company proposes eight to 12 buildings for warehouses or manufacturing on 211.83 acres – a total of 2.5 million square feet of buildings – a $250 million investment in the project and an additional $20 million in infrastructure for roads, lighting, electric utility, storm and sanitary sewers. The property is located between Route 38 and Kautz Road, south of Fabyan Parkway.

“For more than a decade, past and current City Councils have endeavored to expand the city’s tax base by advancing the South East Master Plan,” Mayor Kevin Burns said. “The council affined this long-standing goal by voting positively on five separate items that drives this vital economic engine to fruition.”

A series of five ordinances were for:

• The 211.83-acre annexation agreement with MWI

• A 225.83-acre annexation that is the South East Master Plan, which adds acreage to the MWI property.

• Rezoning of the MWI acreage to light industrial from rural single family

• A special use permit for a planned unit development and preliminary infrastructure plan

• A resolution granting preliminary and final subdivision for MIF Geneva Park

MWI also proposes 1,653 to 1,867 car parking stalls, 154 to 448 trailer parking stalls, stormwater improvements, a 28-acre wetland conservation area and one outlot for an electrical substation.

“The subject property ... would establish the city of Geneva’s southern-eastern corporate limit,” City Administrator Stephanie Dawkins said. “The project would include an extension of Kautz Road from Illinois [Route] 38 to Fabyan Parkway.”

The Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously recommended approval at its April 11 meeting.

Five votes were split 8-3 – with Burns voting yes twice – and the other three were 7-3 with the same three voting no: Third Ward Alderpersons Becky Hruby and Dean Kilburg and Fifth Ward Alderperson Robert Swanson.

‘A developer win’

Hruby acknowledged the development of that site has been part of the city’s planning for 20 years.

“Are warehouses really what we want?” Hruby said. “We are grasping at the first opportunity we are offered and we are settling.”

Hruby cited warehouse vacancies all over the area, the impact of increased traffic and warehouse jobs paying $16 to $17 an hour.

“No one making $17 an hour can afford to live in Geneva,” Hruby said. “I understand and appreciate the work that has gone into this plan to get us here today. ... Annexing this land to bring warehouses to our home is solely a developer win.”

Fourth Ward Alderperson Amy Mayer countered the area in question is “perfectly suited for an industrial park and I hope that there’s manufacturing.”

“We have General Mills, we have Pillsbury nearby, we have FONA, the food depository,” Mayer said. “We act like these buildings are absolutely going to be a plague on our city. Yet we have all these users who are really, really good contributors to our city.”

Swanson and Second Ward Alderperson Bradley Kosirog want the wetland conservation area available for the public.

Scott Brejcha, a wetland specialist with D3 Companies, said public access would defeat the purpose of a conservation area plan that has been approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Brejcha said eventually a third-party conservation organization will take over the wetland and natural area – 40 acres in total – in perpetuity.

First Ward Alderperson Anaïs Bowring said it was not a priority to make an industrial site accessible to the public because a conservation area is located within it.

Bowring said the public can access existing natural areas such as at Fermilab, forest preserves and along the Fox River.

East side, west side

Hruby tried to ask MWI officials why they didn’t respond to public and media inquires about the 300-year-old oak trees that were cut down on the property last year.

Burns shut her down, saying the trees were not relevant for the meeting.

But what stirred profanity from Burns were Hruby’s comments about division in the city between its east and west side residents.

“Our constituents are the ones being affected by this plan,” Hruby said. “They are adamantly opposed and we are doing our best to fight for them, but we are clearly outnumbered.”

Burns said people can disagree respectfully.

“To call into question these gentlemen and ladies is equivalent to calling into question every developers’ character. And that’s not right,” Burns said. “The last gasp of ‘Don’t we all hate you [expletive]’ is pathetic.”

Burns said he understood that people were angry that the trees were cut down, but it was not part of their meeting.

“I’m trying to stand up for my residents,” Hruby said.

Burns objected to Hruby or anyone else who thinks the development just affects east side residents.

“I hate that statement,” Burns said. “I hate that intentional division in our community. This is a Geneva issue. If you don’t support it, vote no. That’s fine, we’re all grown adults, we can get along with it. But to assume that this is strictly impactful – whether it be good, bad or indifferent – to only those who live east of the Fox is a bald-faced lie.”

Burns asked if Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital or Burgess-Norton or Randall Road only impacted west side residents.

“We are one community,” Burns said. “I struggle with that ‘us vs them’ in a 10-square mile radius. ... But to assume that developments ... located in a particular ward or a particular street or particular neighborhood ... only impacts those neighborhoods ... that is the epitome of the [expletive] we see in [Washington] D.C. and that’s not right.”