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Aurora -- A group of residents, upset by the city's plans to construct a new parking lot downtown and remove a ballfield, is circulating a referendum petition that it hopes will put the issue on the November ballot.
"We would like to see no loss of recreational space," said resident Rita Scott, who is spearheading a committee of 12 residents who are circulating the petition. "There are lots of options for parking."
Mayor Ann Womer Benjamin believes the Kiwanis-Moore Playground project, which consists of a parking lot, walkway, field improvements and landscaping, "is a first step toward improving Town Center, which can be the core of growth and activity that benefits everyone."
Law Director Dean DiPiero said according to the Ohio Revised Code, there needs to be 596 valid signatures for the petition to be considered. The Portage County Board of Elections must verify each signature and each petition, he said, and the Board of Elections must certify the signatures and submit them at least 90 days before the Nov. 4 general election, which would be Aug. 4.
Although Scott said she is unsure of how many signatures they have garnered so far, she said the group is making good progress. "Everyone supports this because our kids' sports are very important to us," she said
In early June, City Council approved $90,000 for a project at the plsyground, which includes building a parking lot over Field 3, installing a path to adjacent ball fields and businesses on Route 43, and completing and improving a larger Field 4.
Womer Benjamin said work on Field 4 has been held up because of the referendum petition.
"It's a single project, and the funding for it is being threatened by the referendum effort," the mayor said. "I will not jeopardize city finances by proceeding with Field 4 completion while the funding for the entire project is being challenged."
Scott called the petition drive the "save or pave Field 3" issue.
"WE WENT to City Council and asked questions," Scott said. "Nobody had any more proof that we needed more parking space. When Council members voted for it, we got the feeling we were not being represented. So we wanted to put this on the ballot so we could decide for ourselves."
Womer Benjamin said a planning department study "shows that we need at least twice the parking space we currently have in the area."
She said the city's planning commission "has increasingly struggled with approving new or expanded businesses in the center of town with the limited parking options, and private parking arrangements have been the temporary solution to meet parking needs on a short-term basis.
"As we add ball fields to the Kiwanis-Moore Playground area, parking demands are increasing. People are parking on grass and in prohibited places at will."
Womer Benjamin said Field 3 was scheduled to be removed anyway, and would facilitate the completion and enhancement of Field 4 through the use of its equipment.
Scott said her objection to the proposed plan is it would eliminate recreational space. "It goes against people's sense of fairness," she said.
"This [plan] takes away from the kids' recreation in favor of the businesses, and that's just not right," Scott said.
Womer Benjamin stressed no individual or business requested the project and said it is not in response to "special interests." She said the project was unanimously approved by planning commission and was OK'd by Council, 5-3.
"I was elected mayor to implement a vision for Aurora which is quite a balancing act -- protect and promote the use of our green space, support and strengthen our commercial sector because of the tremendous revenue it brings to Aurora, and maintain Aurora's charming 'small-town' feel," she said.
"This project, while a delicate balance, addresses all three of these concerns, is an efficient use of our resources, and is a good forward step for Aurora."
Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4187
Twitter: Mike Lesko@MikeLesko_RPC