AURORA -- The city's master planning process kicked off Jan. 10 with the first meeting of the recently appointed master plan review commission.

According to Planning-Zoning-Building Director Denise Januska, the master plan is the city's "vision for the future."

"We're looking 20 years into the future, but we do it every five years because things change," she told the commission, which includes nine residents representing a variety of different perspectives.

Members are Chair Laura Stitch, Vice Chair Dale Moravec, Jennifer Stanley, Joan Tomko, Matt Gilmore, Nicholas Austin, Lucy Zamary, Shannon Keibler and Evan Webster.

In addition to Januska, the commission will have the help of Emil Liszniansky, a civil engineer, planner and attorney with Envision Group LLC.

"We're not starting from square one," Liszmiansky said during the meeting. "You have a plan that was last adopted in 2013."

He told commissioners he would act as "extension of [their] staff."

"We'll be working with you to hear your ideas," he said. "We really want to keep with the ideas of your community rather than come in here and try to change things."

Mayor Ann Womer Benjamin said the master plan review is "an important job."

"In my three years as mayor, the master plan has really served as a guide on many projects," she said, adding it was helpful in developing the Town Center and planning the future of the former Geauga Lake Park property.

However, she said city leaders are not bound by the plan.

"From my perspective, the master plan is not a mandate," she said. "There are many factors that go into implementing a master plan. There are economic factors; there are practical factors involved; and, certainly, circumstances change."

Liszniansky said there are three focal areas in town to plan around: the Geauga Lake area, Town Center and the Depot District.

Januska said the commission will look at a variety of factors and their interaction. Some of the factors that may play a role are the tax base, housing stock, the schools, future land uses, focal areas and different ways to implement the plan.

"Some of the key decisions I think we're going to make as we go through it have to do with land use, construction housing, transportation, recreation and historic aspects," she said.

She added the city has developed a new sign code and mixed use development zoning on the Geauga Lake property since the last review of the master plan.

Januska said the master plan review commission will develop recommendations to send to the planning and zoning commission, which will have the chance to amend recommendations and pass them on to City Council for final approval.

Womer Benjamin said she still would like to protect the city's small town, rural feel and believes commission chair Stith and Liszniansky share her view.

"I was particularly excited when your chair told me the rural charm here is what attracted her from Hudson," Womer Benjamin told the commission. "I really do value the fact that we've bought up land over the past 25 years."

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