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Documents state Campana objector offered senior housing

A last-minute legal maneuver filed by a neighboring property owner in Geneva, Robert Byrnes, delayed a vote until February on the proposed Campana apartment project in Batavia.
A last-minute legal maneuver filed by a neighboring property owner in Geneva, Robert Byrnes, delayed a vote until February on the proposed Campana apartment project in Batavia.

GENEVA – The Geneva man who filed a legal protest of the Campana project had himself offered a 72-unit senior housing project with rental assistance in 2015, documents show.

Robert Byrnes of Batavia Avenue Properties LLC, 1950 and 2000 S. Batavia Ave. in Geneva, filed a protest to Evergreen Real Estate Group’s proposal three days before the Batavia City Council was scheduled to vote on the plan Nov. 6.

Byrnes’ protest triggered a requirement that the project be approved by a two-thirds majority of Batavia’s 14 aldermen, prompting the vote to be delayed until early 2018.

Batavia Avenue Properties shares a property line along the north and northwest sides of the Campana site, 901 N. Batavia Ave., Batavia.

According to documents released under the Freedom of Information Act to Liz Safanda, executive director of Preservation Partners of the Fox Valley, Byrnes had floated a plan called Geneva Heights for two three-story elevator buildings at 2000 S. Batavia Ave., on vacant land behind the current commercial building.

Though Byrnes’ Geneva Heights project did not advance beyond the staff review stage, Safanda asserted in an email to Batavia city officials that Byrnes’ project would have had at least as much traffic impact on the area as was projected for the 80 units proposed by Evergreen for the Campana building.

Byrnes had contended during the Campana hearings that the project would create unacceptable traffic problems at the Route 31 and Fabyan Parkway intersection and for his own office building property to the north.

Byrnes had said the basis for his objection was the traffic impact.

“He was going to have the very same thing he objected to – basically,” Safanda said. “I don’t want to guess what the real reason for his opposition is, but I suspect it’s not traffic.”

Byrnes did not respond to voicemail messages seeking comment.

In a Dec. 5 email Safanda sent to Batavia aldermen and staff, she wrote that, “It would be reasonable to estimate that the Geneva Heights plan would generate traffic equivalent to the Evergreen plan.”

“I conclude that Mr. Byrnes is not entirely transparent about his motives in opposing the Campana project so vigorously,” Safanda’s email stated. “Going forward, I hope the [Batavia City] Council will recognize that many of the opposition speakers are from Geneva, and have their own agendas, not necessarily the interest of the city of Batavia at heart.”

Safanda said her experience when her father lived at a senior living facility in St. Charles was that seniors – as well as their caregivers and family members – generated a lot of traffic.

“It made no sense for him [Byrnes] to oppose Campana when seniors have as many trips per day,” Safanda said. “A 1 percent increase in traffic as to what is already on that road today is not a huge increase. Mr. Byrnes’ project would have generated the same.”

Safanda said the purpose of her email to Batavia officials was to encourage them to look at what works for Batavia and “don’t let these various Geneva citizens take control of the meetings.”

“I hope there is an opportunity for the [City] Council to review the plan again early in 2018 and acknowledge by their ‘yes’ votes that this proposal is a win-win for Batavia,” Safanda’s email stated.

Safanda’s email stated that repurposing the Campana building for housing “protects a cherished landmark for decades to come, offers significant housing options to our local ‘workforce,’ and affirms loud and clear that Batavia deserves its reputation as a compassionate city that respects and encourages diversity.”

Byrnes had said Evergreen’s income-restricted apartments were not the basis for his objection.

Batavia Mayor Jeff Schielke said he does not generally comment about what people in a neighboring community say or do.

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