The First Ward Report – Under cover of the Coronavirus!

Before we get started, please permit this classic liberal to stipulate that, while the City of Geneva would certainly benefit from the diversity an affordable housing project would bestow, a beneficial end can never justify a nefarious means! Just like it is with any other municipal endeavor, statutory processes and procedures must be followed before that first silver shovel hits the dirt.

And following those rules is particularly important when the discussion involves something as controversial as low-income housing. But as he’s demonstrated so often in the past, Mayor Kevin Burns is making it clear that the rules don’t apply to him.

What the Mayor wants to do is cram 45 townhomes into the small eight-acre parcel behind the old Chronicle building bordered by Kaneville Road, Lewis Road, Caldwell Lane, the UP tracks, and Kaneville Court. Yikes!

Under the guise of coronavirus restrictions, the Burns cancelled all May city council meetings even though many other municipalities have successfully adopted the digital alternative. Then he used that unnecessary downtime to quietly lobby the six alderman required to move this project forward.

Burns 2

Geneva Mayor Kevin Burns

His plan was to push this through when the shelter-in-place restrictions ease on Monday, June first, and the City Council reconvenes. With public participation at a pandemic minimum, the development would almost certainly be approved six to four.

The Mayor’s most fervent wish was that word wouldn’t get out until it was a fait accompli, but as evidenced by the flurry of potentially affected residents who reached out to me, that plan went over about as well as the President attempting to field simple coronavirus questions.

With that hope dashed, now he’s praying that Genevans are so preoccupied with, or terrified by, the pandemic, they wouldn’t notice or care that the public hearing requirements are being ignored.

But that scheme didn’t work, either, because the fine folks in the nearby Sterling Manner subdivision have made it clear they want their collective voices heard. And that is their right!

Then there’s this!

Given my seeming-eternal coverage of all manner of municipalities, this seasoned journalist is somewhat convinced that a development like this requires at least a two-thirds vote. But because I’m clearly off his Christmas card list, the Mayor failed to respond to my request for clarification.

So, the FOIA has been issued.

But as perilous as those procedural breaches are, they pale in comparison to the inherent issues with this affordable housing project itself. Can you say, “Doomed to fail?” I knew you could!

Every last not-doomed-to-repeat-history urban planner will tell you that stacking that many lower-income folks in a naturally segregated small space means an inexorable spiral into the kind of municipal nightmare from which you never quite wake up.

Naperville’s similar townhome initiative can only be described as an abject morass that’s been a consistent drain on city resources.

And just like the legendary Chicago alderman Paddy Bauler once warned, Geneva ain’t ready for reform – or at least an affordable housing project of this scope! Considering the city is 95 percent white with a median household income of $105,000, wouldn’t it be far more prudent to start with a small-scale project that’s integrated into an established residential area so folks can get used to the idea?

Isn’t politics always the art of the possible?

Particularly if you involve local churches, the more modest semi-public housing scenarios are the ones that tend to succeed.

To make matters much worse, like Naperville, these rental-only townhomes will surely attract Section Eight residents who have no investment in the community and almost always turn out to be a disaster of varying proportion. I’ve had a slew of friends and readers hit me with Section Eight horror stories over the years, and trust me, they’d curl your toenails.

But before you start referring to me as a closet Klansman, the Section Eight demographics break down like this: 49 percent Caucasian, 33 percent black, and 13 percent Hispanic. So, it’s actually a matter of income and not race.

The truth is, Section Eight is one of the biggest frauds ever perpetrated on the American public. Not only has it failed the folks it purports to serve, but it attracts scammers, and history has proven you can’t pluck an economically disadvantaged family from a distressed urban neighborhood and plunk them down in the middle of Geneva.

The inevitable culture shock leads to an insoluble friction that only makes everyone’s lives that much more miserable. If you don’t believe me, talk to any former Aurora Jericho Circle resident.

It’s like expecting me to somehow succeed as the next Cubs centerfielder. I’ve played the game, I understand the game, and I’m in pretty good shape for a 61-year-old man, but I’m not nearly prepared to face an Aroldis Chapman fastball.

Put more simply, this affordable housing project is cursed on so many levels, I can’t believe the City Council is even considering it. There are so many better options.

On Friday, we’ll discuss the Mayor’s motives for pulling this procedural fast one, the worthy but misled enterprise behind it, and how, even if the vote goes through, the fat lady’s only warming up!

Till then!

15 thoughts on “The First Ward Report – Under cover of the Coronavirus!

  1. Batavia is a great example of this problem with Batavia Apts and Lorelei Apts.

  2. Who owns the land? Who is the developer? Who is the attorney representing the developer? Who will manage property and do they manage others and what is their track record? How many acres would normally be required to build 45 townhomes? How many children do they expect? What normal zoning requirements such as green space water retentions parking are being waived?
    I learned my lesson years ago with section 8 You are right it is economic. Try evicting a section 8. Lots of luck.

    • Jim,

      The City of Geneva owns the land, the Burton Foundation aka Emma’s Landing is behind the project, I have no clue who their attorney is, and their track record seems reasonable. Considering the townhomes already in Geneva, I don’t believe there’s much of a space requirement, and I can’t answer your last questions because the city generally refuses to respond to me.

  3. Jeff: I drove by there and did see for sale sign and contact Geneva so I figured Geneva owns it
    What I did NOT see was a request for a change of zoning sign and a notice of public hearings. I would think that even though Geneva owns the land it would be required to put a sign on property about a change of use and also most towns require notice sent to adjacent property owners
    I asked about attorney because sometimes I find they are tied politically to politicians through donations

  4. It says on the city of Geneva site about 100 children are expected to attend Geneva schools. I was at the building and zoning meeting when this development was presented and they also said that 4 cars would be permitted for each townhome and 6 to 8 family members depending on if it was a 2 or 3 bedroom unit. We would like to know how they are going to accommodate up to 180 cars and at least 200 people on 8 acres when there are already traffic and flooding issue.

    • Susan and Joe,

      When you consider that Geneva basically has one empty elementary school, the 100 children wouldn’t have much of an impact.

      And though you’re certainly right about the density issue, the fact that these kinds of developments always turn into a disaster is the far more critical factor.

      Jeff

      • For sure! The city isn’t listening to us on that issue. There are many problems with this development that are not being addressed. It has been very frustrating trying to get our concerns heard.
        Jim asked how many children were expected so I answered that question for him. The city has a just facts blog that I got that info from. Thank you

  5. The mayor is a joke! Sadly I voted for him once, but never again. He does not respond to calls, emails or visits to his office. He disappears like smoke! He does NOT have the city’s best interest in mind when doing these shady things! Nor does he care or respond to the voting tax payers that reach out to him. I have been told he has a REAL job by the people answering the phones. Something to keep in mind for the next election!!!

  6. There is a big difference between affordable housing and section 8 recipients. Go to the Kane County employee salaries list and see all of the professionals who earn wages that can not afford Kane County housing. And that list doesn’t include professionals like new teachers, new college grads just starting out, etc. And God forbid they have children and only one income. You can’t assume people who don’t make a lot of money are going to turn their housing into the new Cabrini Green. Forty-five units may be too many for the space but in itself is not a big number.

    • M,

      You’re dead on, and maybe I should’ve been clearer. These things NEVER start off as section 8 housing, but they ALWAYS end up there. It’s just the nature of the beast. You can’t keep section 8 folks out of a development like this.

      Jeff

  7. Jim,
    I like your posts! Especially your analysis of the COVID. I post your column on the St Charles page on FB but it’s censured within an hour. Keep up the good reporting.

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