There’s a perception in Geneva that the City doesn’t put as much effort and resources into maintenance and improvements of lower income neighborhoods (like Ward 6) than it does into downtown and other neighborhoods.
This perception is often proven to be a reality.
This is the story of two zombie houses, both owned by the City of Geneva and then demolished by the City of Geneva. It’s the story of how city officials have again decided they don’t have to follow the rules everyone else follows, and how the people of Ward 6 continue to be ignored and marginalized by the City.
First, a couple of quick facts about the sidewalk ordinance in Geneva:
- Property owners in the city are responsible to keep their sidewalks in a “good state of repair” “at all times.”
- Property owners in the city are not allowed to sell a property until all sidewalks are repaired.
City-Owned Zombie House #1 – 39 North Exchange Street (Ward 6)
- September/October 2016 – House demolished, one sidewalk removed
- December 2017 – City sells property without replacing the sidewalk
City-Owned Zombie House #2 – 62 Grove Street (Ward 2)
- October 2017 – House demolished, two sidewalks removed
- November 2017 – City replaces both sidewalks within one month
What Happened at the North Exchange Street Property?
June 2017 – More than 6 months after the property was demolished, the City announced that they intended to sell the property even though the sidewalk had not been replaced.
According to the City sidewalk ordinance, the City should have scheduled a sidewalk inspection by the Department of Public Works once they decided to sell it. If the inspection found that the sidewalk presented a “danger to the public via tripping hazards or other public safety concerns,” the City would be given 60 days to fix the sidewalk. The City would also be required to correct all deficiencies in the sidewalks prior to selling the property.
December 2017: After more than a year since the sidewalk had been removed but never replaced, the City of Geneva sold the property, even though the city sidewalk ordinance prohibited the sale.
The property was sold to Sons of Italy for $250.
City Council voted unanimously to approve the sale after City Manager Matt Horn noted that although $250 is a very low price, Sons of Italy had made an agreement to take responsibility for the estimated $2,000 replacement of the sidewalk.
Voting to approve the sale were two members of Sons of Italy: Ward 2 Councilor Paul D’Amico and Ward 6 Councilor John Greco. D’Amico previously served as financial secretary and Greco as former president of Sons of Italy. It’s incredible that it never crossed either councilor’s mind to recuse himself from the vote, considering that voting to materially benefit an organization of which you are a member is the definition of a conflict of interest.
The sidewalk still has not been repaired. For more than a year, residents of Ward 6 have been forced to walk and to push carts and strollers in the street rather than safely on the sidewalk. The City dropped a total of five orange traffic cones on either end of the missing sidewalk, chose to violate their own ordinance by failing to fix it, and called it good.
Meanwhile, in Ward 2, the dust had barely settled from the demolition of the house at 62 Grove Street when the City replaced TWO sidewalks so that residents could continue to safely walk and push carts and strollers through the neighborhood.
Remember, back in August 2017, after 5,000 gallons of raw sewage spilled into Ward 6’s Marsh Creek, the City responded by assuring everyone that the spill wouldn’t have any major impact on the quality of Seneca Lake’s water. The City never even acknowledged the existence of hundreds of Ward 6 residents who live and play around Marsh Creek (including the weekend following the spill when dozens of residents gathered at Gulvin Park to play softball), and never warned residents to keep their pets and children away from Marsh Creek.
This may seem like just a story of two sidewalks, but it’s really another ugly chapter in the story of two Genevas.
City officials need to answer for their failure to follow the sidewalk ordinance.
More importantly, City officials need to explain why they think the people of Ward 2 are more deserving of basic safety and dignity than the people of Ward 6.
We can and must do better.