GENEVA – The Geneva Historic Preservation Commission voted unanimously Aug. 15 to deny applications to remove a landmark designation from a circa 1843 blacksmith shop and a petition to demolish it.
The Shodeen Family Foundation, which owns the former blacksmith shop at 4 E. State St., had sought the de-designation and demolition.
The commission had heard hearing testimony continued from January to July before finally deliberating and making a decision. They deliberated for 45 minutes before voting 7-0 with none absent.
Demolition is a last resort if the owner has no other alternatives – an issue disputed by preservationists who want the shop saved and repurposed.
“Based on the information and the testimonies provided, I am not convinced that the applicant has proven it to be a financial or economic hardship,” Commissioner Jewel Jensen said, to explain her vote. “The Teska (and) Associates and The Planera Group had provided a report that demonstrated a path for financial feasibility. Also, I am not convinced the applicant has explored all other redevelopment options or investigated alternative funding sources.”
Commissioner George Stazen questioned what was expected to be done with the former blacksmith shop as it is in a deteriorated condition.
“The condition of the structure currently is beyond – in my opinion – any restoration,” Stazen said. “We have this box, which we don’t have a function for, either. I’m at a loss as to what we are trying to preserve here.”
Still, Stazen voted with the majority, saying Shodeen had not nearly exhausted all its available talent and creativity “to make this a win-win for everyone.”
“At this point in time, I have to say the same thing – I would turn down demolition,” Stazen said.
Commissioner George Salomon said when Shodeen tore down the old Mill Race Inn, they left the historic structure without cover from the elements.
“They left the old structure exposed, hoping for possibly some act of God – whatever – to knock it down .. and not have to go through this process,” Salomon said.
Commissioners also cited the outpouring of support for preservation from the community, as well as the sticking point that Shodeen had a demolition application in place while seeking tax increment finance funds.
Officials said the two were incongruous – that a demolition permit would have to be withdrawn and a formal application for TIF support be made.
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.
Shodeen representative David Patzelt said he had made many overtures to city officials about accessing TIF funds for the project and was ignored. He also said there is nothing in the city ordinance that precludes a demolition permit and a request for TIF assistance to be made at the same time.
“They did not want to offer any financial assistance,” Patzelt said.
As to the next step, Patzelt said the owners had not yet made a decision whether to appeal the vote to the City Council.