Geneva’s historic blacksmith shop up for partial demolition

Shodeen seeks new review following legal loss in court

The inside of the circa 1843 limestone blacksmith shop at the former Mill Race property at 4 E. State St., Geneva, shows there had once been a fire that charred the roof. Photos of the building’s condition were presented Tuesday night at a public hearing before the Geneva Historic Preservation Commission. A decision on allowing its demolition is still pending.

The Geneva Historic Preservation Commission has scheduled a public hearing at 7 p.m. July 16 to hear a new petition for a partial demolition of a historic blacksmith shop at 4 E. State St.

Shortly after losing a lawsuit June 10 against the city over its denial of allowing a full demolition, property owner Shodeen Family Foundation filed a request June 27 to “demolish and remove the existing wood roof structure due to fire damage, rot and general deterioration, down to the top surface of the stone walls,” records show.

The owners also are seeking to remove the temporary wood-framed walls and install a protective tarpaulin covering over the exposed surface, records show.

The hearing will be at City Hall, 109 James St., Geneva.

The circa 1843 Alexander Brothers’ Blacksmith Shop has Historic Landmark designation.

The Historic Preservation Commission recommended that an earlier request to demolish the former blacksmith shop be denied Aug. 15, 2023, followed by a denial by the City Council on Sept. 26, 2023.

Geneva City Hall, 22 South 1st Street, Geneva

The Shodeen Family Foundation filed suit Oct. 27, 2023, seeking judicial review and reversal of the denial, asserting the city was unfair.

Kane County Judge Kevin Busch denied the Shodeen request June 10, affirming the city’s decision to deny the petition was legal, court records show.

“I thought we would win with the way the city treated Shodeen with regard to this matter. The city’s position was just leaving this an eyesore on what should be a well-developed parcel.”

—  Robert Minetz, Shodeen attorney

According to a transcript of the June 10 court hearing, Shodeen attorney Robert Minetz said the city’s insistence on keeping the blacksmith shop prevents development of the whole parcel.

“Basically the city’s position is pound sand and try to develop around this dilapidated building,” Minetz said.

In response, city attorney Ronald Sandack said what is before the court is the Historic Preservation Commission’s recommendation to deny and the City Council’s decision not to allow the demolition.

“Both unanimous that the Shodeen Family Foundation did not meet the city’s code requirement for a demolition permit,” Sandack said. “Mr. Minetz takes it to an extreme example saying that we’re trying to – that we told them to pound sand.”

Minetz countered, saying it was the city that did not follow its own ordinance.

Busch said Minetz made compelling arguments about land use and the inability of an owner not to be allowed to use their land.

“This doesn’t really impact land use regulations except for – allegedly – the historical value,” Busch said. “Which the (Historic Preservation) Commission has deemed it such because it’s an old limestone structure that purportedly was the blacksmith shop that bears no resemblance to anything other than a pitiful limestone structure, and it is an eyesore, and it is a liability.”

Busch said the city did not err in its conclusion.

Busch said the court was tasked only in regard to the application of the city’s ordinance, although to him it made “no logical sense to worry about a limestone structure that is hundreds of years old that has no semblance of history other than it’s old.”

Sandack said Busch made the right call.

“I think the Shodeen Family Foundation had been afforded a fair and full opportunity to bring their original petition to the Historic Preservation Commission and the City Council and that the demolition permit did not meet the city’s requirements and ordinance,” Sandack said.

Minetz said it would be hard to disagree with Bush regarding applicable law.

“I’m disappointed, of course,” Minetz said. “I thought we would win with the way the city treated Shodeen with regard to this matter. The city’s position was just leaving this an eyesore on what should be a well-developed parcel.”

The Mill Race Inn, the historic restaurant, closed in January 2011. Through a now-dissolved LLC, Shodeen bought the 1.3-acre site on the corner of Illinois routes 38 and 25 in 2014 for $550,000, property records show.