Geneva aldermen OK ‘reverter clause’ in Emma’s Landing project

Officials explain ‘reverter’ protects city interests, as residents complain

GENEVA – Aldermen unanimously approved the addition of a “reverter clause” in a real estate agreement with the Burton Foundation after an hour of sometimes heated disagreement at Monday’s meeting.

The Burton Foundation sent a letter to the city May 26 invoking its option to a second three-month extension, this time to close on Sept. 20 – instead of June 21 – citing Covid-related delays.

The Burton Foundation’s letter also stated that the current reverter clause July 1 should be extended also. The July 22, 2020 sales contract states that the “purchaser at purchaser’s option, may elect to extend the closing by up to two consecutive 90-day periods up on notice to the seller requesting same.”

The reverter clause, as explained repeatedly by city officials and city attorney Ron Sandack on Monday night, means that if the Burton Foundation does not begin construction of Emma’s Landing within six months of the new closing date, the property would revert to the city.

“The reverter (clause) is for the city’s benefit if the project isn’t built or no noticeable steps are taken within six months of closing,” Sandack said.

“If the reverter (clause) goes away, six months from September the city has no clawback opportunity if Burton does not take substantial steps towards building and completing the project,” Sandack said. “Tonight’s vote doesn’t kill the deal. It doesn’t slow down progress, it only hurts the city – if with its remedy of reversion – if it is the will of the City Council to kill the reverter.”

To further explain, Mayor Kevin Burns said if the developer chose not to develop, that land remains with the Burton Foundation.

“Without that reverter clause, they could close on the land and if they so choose – or for whatever circumstance, build partial … or build nothing at all – and we have no opportunities to say, ‘Guess what? You didn’t make material improvements, you didn’t do anything, that land is now ours,’” Burns said.

Though the only issue was the reverter clause, several residents complained that the Burton Foundation should not have a second deadline extension, and re-argued their past opposition to the project, a 45-unit affordable rental townhouse subdivision on 7.75 acres just north of Lewis Road.

The Burton Foundation is an Elgin-based nonprofit that builds affordable rental housing in various communities. The project was controversial and played a role in the mayoral race.

Resident Lindsey McCall criticized the developer for seeking an extension because of Covid – and for allegedly seeking to make a profit.

“I just feel that there could be a better developer out there that maybe actually has the best interest of residents – those existing residents and new residents to our community – instead of just trying to figure out how to turn a profit on this,” McCall said.

Issues had became so heated, they took on a life of their own earlier this year, and also became an issue during the mayoral race. Some residents restated those issues Monday night in a heated exchange, prompting one remote resident, Chris Bohner, to hang up and prompting Burns to cut off another remote caller, Rodney Nelson.

Burns also took the floor himself.

“Let’s talk candidly,” Burns said. “Passion is a good thing and when passion gets out of control, it’s an ugly thing. … I think everyone would agree.”

Burns said Bohner had authored several email messages and statements – all part of the official record on Emma’s Landing.

“‘Let’s hire an attorney to discover if the city of Geneva is doing what it should be doing, legally,’” Burns read. “If we discover that what they are doing is correct, then we will use the extra funds to dig up dirt on the City Council members.’ Isn’t that fun? That’s passion heading down a wrong-way street.”

Burns said he knows who the authors of the Say No To Emma’s Landing letters are – as well as those who attacked him personally and his family, and accused him of having relationships, sexual or otherwise, with the developer.

“I have had calls from men and women saying, and I quote, ‘You know it’s going to come up. It’s going to come up.’ And despite every effort to ask them, ‘What are you talking about?’ They said, ‘That’s just the way the game is played, Kevin. Welcome to the game.’ That’s not passion. That’s a pathology. It’s disgusting.”

Burns welcomed anyone to call him on his cell – 630-742-8916 – and have a candid conversation or text him.

“Be kind,” Burns said. “Call me. I’ll speak to you. But I will not restrain my passion for not putting up with the nonsense and BS any more.”