Aurora -- Referendum petitions that aim to halt the city's plans to construct a Town Center parking lot and remove a ballfield have been submitted to Town Hall, after which they will be handed over to the Portage County Board of Elections.

If the latter board finds there are enough valid signatures, voters will decide the issue on the November ballot.

Resident Rita Scott, who is spearheading the petition drive, said she submitted the petitions July 8, which Clerk of Council Donna Hawks confirmed.

Scott noted her group collected 716 signatures -- 105 more than the 611 valid signatures that Law Director Dean DiPiero said are needed for the petition to go on the ballot under the Ohio Revised Code.

"I feel good that we have enough signatures," said Scott, who is heading the committee of 12 residents. "We wanted to get extra signatures because sometimes you have people who sign who aren't registered to vote."

Scott said she obtained about 50 signatures at a booth at the city's July 4 festivities.

Brad Cromes, deputy director of the Portage County Board of Elections, said by law the petitions must stay with City Council for 10 days, then be delivered to the Board of Elections, which has 10 days to determine if enough signatures are valid.

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, DePiero said.

Mayor Ann Womer Benjamin believes the parking lot project, which consists of the lot, a 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."

IN EARLY June, City Council approved $90,000 for the project at Kiwanis-Moore Playground that includes building the lot on current Field 3, installing a path to nearby ballfields 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 [the parking lot and field improvements] 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."

Womer Benjamin said a planning department study "shows that we need at least twice the parking space we currently have in that 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 ballfields to the Kiwanis-Moore Playground area, parking demands are increasing," Womer Benjamin said. "People are parking on grass and in prohibited places at will."

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."


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