AURORA -- Increasing connectivity seems to be an important common goal among Aurora's master plan review commission members.
During a Feb. 14 meeting, members each listed their top three planning priorities for the future to help provide guidance for Planning-Zoning-Building Director Denise Januska and Ryan Smalley and Emil Liszniansky, both principals with Envision Group LLC, which is helping with the master plan review process.
Once the panel finishes its update of the plan, it will be passed on to City Council for final approval.
Commission member Dale Moravec said he'd like to see a trail formed along the Norfolk Southern Railroad easement. "We know it runs diagonally through the city, and we know we've had very little communication with the railroad," he said.
Smalley said that trail could conceivably link to one in Mantua, while conceding that working with the railroad has been slow going. "It's a conversation we should continue to have and maybe work with other cities," he said.
Mayor Ann Womer Benjamin last fall said the administration is working with Solon and the Portage Park District, as well as State Sen. John Eklund, to try to make the connection a reality. The topic came up last fall as part of the city's "Bike and Brainstorm" event, which was aimed at figuring out the best ways to connect locations via bike trails and lanes.
Commission members also were focused on providing amenities for the seniors and children in the community. Commission member Joan Tomko said there needs to be places for teens to go after school. "There's only so much room in Starbucks for them to go and sit," she said.
Commission member Lucy Zamary, a substitute teacher in the local schools, said a group of students at Leighton wrote to the mayor as part of a persuasive writing assignment. She said the majority want a community / recreation center, "somewhere they could exercise and stay safe, especially in the winter."
"It was really interesting to hear 10-year-olds saying they want to be with their friends," she said.
Commission member Matt Gilmore also said the city could benefit from having a place where children could go during the day. He said his son used to attend a center before he moved back to Aurora. The center provided "a full day of activities. It was just a great way to use public facilities. I think it would be a great community benefit."
Commission member Jennifer Stanley said she'd like to see more opportunities for outdoor recreation such as basketball courts and tennis courts.
Moravac said it would be good to think about connectivity for seniors, as well as younger people who can walk or bicycle to locations in the city.
"As our population ages and seniors want to get out, they're going to want to go out with these three-wheeled vehicles people use in supermarkets," he said. "One thing we have to look at, especially on our secondary streets, is allowing road-worthy golf carts. The people out there want these things."
Commission member Evan Webster said he wants to maintain the proper balance of different types of housing.
"One of the concerns I have is that the number of condos and apartments are growing in our city as well," he said. "I'm looking at it in regard to schools and taxation."
He said condos and apartments have potential to add more students to the district without providing a corresponding increase in property tax revenue.
Gilmore said he shares Webster's concern about the burden an overabundance of condominiums and apartments could cause for the schools.
Moravec asked the administration about the possibility of trying to develop a Town Center on an undeveloped 40-acre property near the intersection of Routes 82 and 43. He said he was wondering, strategically, how the city could drive development of such an area, which was mentioned as a desire by several panelists.
"Do we solicit a developer to come in and develop it, or does Aurora come in and buy the land, and then we control the way it's developed?" he asked.
Service Director John Trew said that particular parcel isn't a location the city has tried to have developed because "it's on the top of the watershed" for the Chagrin River. It also isn't served by sanitary sewer lines, he added.
"That's one of the reasons we've been fairly successful since the 1990s at controlling growth -- not having to manage infrastructure in there," he said.
Commission chairwoman Laura Stith said Hudson demonstrated with First and Main that the anchor of a town center does not have to be a business. A new library was built in Hudson's town center development, which is located just west of the historic main street shops with access off Routes 91 and 303.
"A new library, I think, would be wonderful," she said. "I'm fairly new to Aurora, but [the library] is so small, and, I think, outdated."
She said a new library as the centerpiece of a town center would "bring young families and older adults across generations" to the town center. "I think it would be a huge draw," she said.
Panelists also said they want to keep a strong historical feel in the center of town, and Webster said deciding how to regulate signs -- particularly digital ones -- is an important consideration. "We need a definition of what signs are," he said. "Some of them have turned into marketing tools."
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