Aurora leaders tout mixed-use plan; voters to decide

by MIKE LESKO | REPORTER Published:

Aurora -- City leaders see many advantages to rezoning the 548 acres in and around the former Geauga Lake Amusement Park property to a mixed-use district.

"Mixed-use zoning will give us flexibility to use the wonderful natural and geographic variations in the property for residential, commercial, recreational and office uses that blend together well and serve the public interest," Mayor Ann Womer Benjamin said at Council's Jan. 13 meeting.

"The Geauga Lake area is an important part of our city that has been in transition since the parks left some years ago," Womer Benjamin added.

She said working with Cedar Fair, which listed the property for sale, Bainbridge Township and the current owner, "Aurora now has an opportunity to move forward with some exciting changes which will provide a coherent and welcoming development at this north end of our city, which we are calling the Geauga Lake Development District."

A public hearing took place at the Jan. 13 session, and at its Jan. 27 session, Council passed a measure to send the zoning issue to the May ballot.

City leaders said the rezoning issue, which must be OK'd by Aurora voters, is intended to go on the May primary election ballot. It would rezone land currently zoned R-2 and R-4 residential and C-1 industrial.

The property includes about 200 acres in Bainbridge, and Womer Benjamin said collaboration is important to Aurora because about half of property is in Bainbridge.

Therefore, if we want to have a more consistent, complementary use of the property, we need to work with Bainbridge," she said. "This collaboration can bring financial benefits to Aurora down the road."

Bainbridge Township Trustee Jeffrey S. Markley said he "heartily endorses" the mixed-use district "as a proactive means to fully utilizing a large and valuable property in Bainbridge to its fullest potential, to create a live/work professional, medical and technical campus setting.

"Doing so enhances our professional base, hopefully provides unique services and opportunities for our residents, and would provide much-needed revenue to our general fund."

ALTHOUGH THE rezoning must go on the ballot in Aurora, that is not the case in Bainbridge Township, Markley said, "although there are required public hearings before any rezoning can occur."

Markley said a vote by the trustees is required, and he hopes that will occur in May or June. "Given the steps involved to meet with the public, stakeholders and county agencies, I think we could have something finalized before September, maybe sooner," he said.

Womer Benjamin said the ordinance was introduced to Aurora Council on Nov. 18.

"The ordinance specifically provides for considerable control and oversight by the city once it is approved, more oversight than the city would typically exercise," she said.

A mixed-use district would allow development of multiple uses. Permitted uses would include stores, veterinary hospitals, banks, restaurants/bars, bowling alleys, offices and single-family housing.

Conditional uses could include assisted living facilities, car washes, day care centers, funeral homes, gas stations, party center/health clubs, theaters, schools, churches and rec facilities.

Judson Kline, president of Civitad Services, which serves as Aurora's consultant, spoke to Aurora officials Jan. 13.

"The wonderful thing about this is, you have a rather large piece of property, [and we can] be proactive about the development rather than reactive to a developer who comes in and says, 'I want to do this,' and everybody sort of scrambles about," Kline said.

Email: mlesko@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4187

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