Aurora officials tout advantages of multi-use district

by KEN LAHMERS | EDITOR Published:

Aurora -- Nearly 200 residents have turned out in the last two weeks to get the scoop on how a multi-use or mixed-use zoning district would work if Issue 11 is approved by voters May 6.

Informational sessions have taken place at Aurora VFW Post 2629, the Hawthorn of Aurora clubhouse and Harmon School, where city officials have explained the multi-use or mixed-use concept, and what would happen if Issue 11 is successful.

About 40 people turned out on a rainy night April 3 at the Hawthorn clubhouse.

On the information panel were Mayor Ann Womer Benjamin, Law Director Dean DePiero, Planning-Zoning-Building interim director Denise Januska, Economic Development Director Jack Burge, consultant Jud Kline and Ward 3 Councilwoman Reva Barner.

Womer Benjamin said the new district would cover about 560 acres in Aurora, of which about 322 acres is former Geauga Lake Park land, and about 550 acres in Bainbridge Township.

Aurora's portion would encompass land north of Treat Road to the Bainbridge Township line between routes 43 and 306, the Anna Maria complex and Cherry Park Apartments on the west side of Route 43, Fairview Avenue and lots along the west side of Route 43 between Squires Road and the Bainbridge border.

The Aurora vote would involve only the portion of acreage in Aurora, but the mayor said city officials are working with Bainbridge Township trustees to establish regulations to be used in both jurisdictions.

KLINE SAID a multi-use district is similar to Crocker Park in Westlake, First & Main in Hudson and the downtown Kent redevelopment. It includes a mix of residential, retail, office, entertainment, amusement and governmental uses, but no industrial, which is what much of the land in Aurora is currently zoned.

"We believe industrial zoning is inappropriate for that area, and mixed-use would be much more beneficial for development," said Womer Benjamin. "This change is a good opportunity for Aurora and Bainbridge, and it's the right time to do it while Cedar Fair stills owns all of the old park property."

At the March 26 informational session, a Cedar Fair spokesman said the firm has gotten inquiries about buying some of the land, but the interested parties have expressed concerns about the current industrial zoning.

Burge added the time is right for the change since the economy is starting to improve, and businesses can get financing easier and are looking for new places to expand.

Kline called the city's effort "a unique undertaking" and the plan "is an attractive model of zoning." He explained mixed-use is a relatively new concept, having become popular in the late 1990s. He noted such an area also would improve the northern gateway into the city.

A city ordinance spells out strict controls on how the land is developed. If the issue is approved, more specific regulations would be drawn up.

Pending the issue's potential passage, Council is considering enacting a 120-day moratorium on development of the property.

SOME members of the audience were concerned how existing residentially-zoned areas would fit into the plan. Januska explained those areas -- although under multi-use zoning -- would still be residential as long as they are occupied as home sites.

Barner also favors the change, noting "what we see there now is not pretty, but it could become very attractive, as long as it is done right. And we hope to do it right."

If the city and township can acquire the right-of-way from Norfork Southern, the abandoned railroad bed could become a trail, and part of the land could become a small park, officials added.

The American Coaster Enthusiasts has suggested perhaps the old Big Dipper roller coaster could be revived and be incorporated as an amusement element of the property.

Officials stressed under the new district, all aspects would still be subject to review by panels such as the planning commission, architectural board of review and board of zoning appeals, just like any other area of the city.

A 10-acre minimum would be required for each site plan unless the planning panel determines otherwise, so the property could not be "piecemealed" into dozens of small parcels.

Womer Benjamin thanked the residents for taking time out to attend the forums, and she urged all Aurorans to read the multi-use district ordinance found on the city's website at www.auroraoh.com/DocumentCenter/View/734

Email: klahmers@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4189

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