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Neighbor to new Geneva historic district questions applicants' fees

Issues raised over outside attorney costs

GENEVA – A neighbor to a proposed new historic district in Geneva asked aldermen at the March 4 City Council meeting if the applicants were going to be required to pay attorney’s fees.

The new historic district is proposed on the south side of Geneva that includes portions of Batavia Avenue, Elizabeth Place, Shady Avenue, Cheever Avenue, Easton Avenue, Hawthorn Road and Peck Road.

A public hearing to consider the request will be held before the Historic Preservation Commission at 7 p.m. March 19 at FONA International, 1900 Averill Road, Geneva.

Jennifer Gustafson, of the 900 block of South Batavia Avenue, said because the city’s attorney recused himself due to a conflict of interest, the city hired an outside attorney to handle the application process.

“The statute reads that each applicant … shall bear all costs, including but not limited to attorney’s fees and staff time,” Gustafson said.

If additional fees are incurred above the initial deposit required to begin the process of designating a new historic district, then the nomination process will not continue until the applicant has paid up all these additional expenses, Gustafson said, reading from the statute.

Property owners paid a $500 fee for their application, records show.

“So if we are going to say that applicants only have to pay for costs associated as long as nobody objects, that completely undermines the purpose of the statute to protect the citizens from these nominations,” Gustafson said. "I think it makes sense that we follow not only the letter but the spirit of the statute and make sure the applicant bears the costs instead of the taxpayers."

Second Ward Alderman Dean Kilburg said he would like a legal opinion from the city’s legal counsel “before we get out over our skis here.”

Aldermen agreed that the city attorney would provide a legal opinion about the issue Gustafson raised.

City Administrator Stephanie Dawkins said the outside attorney hired by the city, Michael Rachlis, had not yet billed for his advice.

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