Aurora -- A referendum petition that would have allowed residents to vote on whether they wanted a new parking lot in Town Center failed to gather enough valid signatures, according to the Portage County Board of Elections.
Board of Elections deputy director Brad Cromes said there were 593 valid signatures turned in, short of the 611 that were required to put the issue on the ballot. Thus, it will not appear this fall.
Cromes said while 716 names were submitted, 65 names were ruled invalid because they did not match those on file at the Board of Elections. Many of them were invalid because people printed their name rather than signing it, while some people signed a different name than is on file at the Board of Elections.
He said another 39 names were not registered voters, while other reasons for signature rejection included some being crossed out, dates missing and addresses not valid.
Cromes originally said 596 valid signatures were required, but later corrected the number to 611, which is 10 percent of the number of people who voted in the 2010 gubernatorial election.
Resident Rita Scott, who spearheaded the petition drive, said, "It was really a surprise [to hear the outcome], but I am so proud of everyone who signed the petition. Maybe they made a mistake when they signed, but that doesn't change their opinion."
Scott, who headed a committee of 12 residents who circulated the petition, said she was pursuing the referendum because she wanted to see "no loss of recreational space," adding "There are lots of options for parking."
Scott said she believes, "It's not too late for City Council to put away the bulldozer and do the right thing."
MAYOR ANN Womer Benjamin, though, believes the right thing is for the city to proceed with the project.
"We knew there was considerable support for this project, especially as people told us they had declined to sign the petition upon learning the facts about this important step in improving our city," she said.
The mayor said the planned improvements at Kiwanis-Moore Playground, including an improved ballfield, walkway and expanded parking, which were halted because of the petition drive, will proceed soon.
The plan was approved by the planning commission and City Council in June. The project will cost $90,000 out of land and park acquisition / improvement funds.
"This plan was developed with much thought and consideration, taking into account the master plan recommendations to improve Town Center, the planning commission's and planning department's parking concerns, baseball needs, recreational usage and city resources," Womer Benjamin said. "It's an efficient use of taxpayer dollars and city resources."
Council President George Horvat added, "This is a great project for our city, and I am glad Council's and the mayor's plan can now be implemented."
Brad Duguay, a resident and president of the Aurora Chamber of Commerce, said, "I'm delighted the city is continuing to move forward with the enhancements. The parking and walkway will help serve the park and potentially businesses surrounding it."
Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4187
Twitter: Mike Lesko@MikeLesko_RPC