Geneva Historic Preservation Committee recommends landmark status change to Mill Race property

Amendment, which still needs City Council approval, would give Shodeen more options for development

Shodeen Inc. applied for a demolition permit for the 1846 limestone structure remaining at the former Mill Race Inn in Geneva. An application for landmark status has put the demolition on hold. A public hearing is scheduled Feb. 20 before the Historic Preservation Commission on the landmark application.

GENEVA – The Geneva Historic Preservation Commission has recommended approval of a plan to remove the historic landmark boundary of the entire Mill Race Inn property in the city’s downtown and apply it only to the 1846 limestone blacksmith shop and a smaller part of land around it.

The plan gives the owner, the Shodeen Family Foundation, more leeway to develop it, officials said. The commission without opposition voted in favor of the plan on April 19 after a public hearing.

David Patzelt, representing the Shodeen Family Foundation, had petitioned for the amendment in March, seeking to have the landmark designation be the former blacksmith shop and one foot around it, rather than the whole 1.4 acre parcel.

The former Mill Race Inn restaurant, which was located on the site at 4 E. State St., was demolished in 2011 after it had been damaged by flooding from the Fox River.

The Shodeen Family Foundation, which purchased property, previously recommended razing the blacksmith shop, but the historic landmark status prevented its demolition.

In the current situation, preservation staff did not fully agree with the one-foot boundary the Shodeens sought.

Instead, staff recommended that the south boundary be 20 feet and the east boundary be 21 feet east of the limestone structure. Staff recommended the north boundary be set at the property line abutting State Street and the west boundary be set at the west property line abutting the Geneva Park District’s Island Park, essentially granting the one-foot request for those two sides.

Setting the east boundary 21 feet from the building recognizes the historic view of the the Alexander Brothers’ Blacksmith Shop, circa 1844-1853; as well as the site of the Rystrom Carriage Shop, 1854 to circa 1878; C.E. Mann Wagon Manufacturing & Blacksmithing shops, circa 1882-1884; and the C.E. Mann Cooperage, circa 1882-1891, according to the staff recommendation.

Setting the south boundary 20 feet from the building recognizes the historic view of the south wall of the Alexander Brothers’ Blacksmith Shop, circa 1844-1853, and other institutions through the Period of Significance, circa 1846-1945, according to the staff recommendation.

Patzelt said he had a “friendly objection” to those 20-foot and 21-foot boundaries.

“We believe that the Historic Preservation Commission is now considering the land around the structure to be historically significant,” Patzelt said. “And that land has been significantly or extensively disturbed. … We are objecting to that.”

Patzelt called the 20-foot dimension being recommended as having “little to no significant basis.”

“Although we do have some objections to the staff report, we are accepting of that staff report,” Patzelt said.

In testimony, resident Patricia McLaughlin said preserving the historic structure of the limestone is the right choice for the Shodeens and the community.

“Historic structures like this — in the long term — adds to value of the whole surrounding property and the community and is a charm factor,” McLaughlin said. “However you want to define that, it is a quality of life good and it is an economic good.”

Al Watts, community engagement director for Preservation Partners of the Fox Valley, testified that the amended landmark boundary should be whatever is necessary to ensure the property’s viability.

“There is no dispute that this is historically significant and that it meets the requirements for a landmark,” Watts said.

“The blacksmith shop is the oldest industrial building on the east bank of the Fox River in Geneva,” Watts said. “It demonstrates both the significance of the river-powered industry that fueled the settling of Geneva and with a variety of businesses operating in it (and) a timeline of Geneva’s growth.”

Resident Lena Serpico said, as a resident of Bennett Street near the former Mill Race Inn, they’ve lived closer to the property than anyone else.

“My neighbors and I are tired of looking at it,” Serpico said. “It’s a cesspool. … I’ve seen Shodeen do some great things in Geneva. We are tired of looking at an ugly facade every day. We would like something else built there.”

The City Council will take final action on the recommendation — either to approve it, amend it further or reject it.

Patzelt said he would restate his objection to the council.

“This is the first time in Geneva history we are now starting to declare land that once had something different on there to be historic – even though there is no evidence remaining of that,” Patzelt said. “That, in essence, is my issue with this. One foot, two feet – why is it 20?”