AURORA — A Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall eventually might occupy a 4.4-acre parcel on Route 43 across from Aurora Farms Premium Outlets and just south of Mantua Feed & Grain.
At the planning commission’s Feb. 6 meeting, representatives from JW Congregation Support Inc. outlined plans for a 3,000-square-foot Kingdom Hall on the site where two vacant houses now stand. ABR Management LLC of Pepper Pike owns the property.
The denomination is seeking a conditional zoning certificate to use the site as a place of worship, and the planning panel accepted the application for study.
In November 2015, the planning panel denied a CZC for a family entertainment center on the site, and City Council later upheld the denial on appeal. The actions followed widespread public opposition to the plan.
Yuri and Elena Abramovich of ABR Management LLC were seeking to build a 23,585-square-foot facility worth $5.5 million. It would have included arcade games, a rope course, laser tag, rock-climbing wall, bumper cars, a cafe and party rooms.
The planning panel claimed the proposed use was not in conformance with the 2008 and 2013 city master plans, and would significantly alter the nature of the area because of its traffic patterns, hours and days of operation and proximity to Miller and Leighton elementary schools.
According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses website, the group "strives to adhere to the form of Christianity that Jesus taught and that his apostles practiced."
There are Kingdom Halls nearby in Streetsboro, Twinsburg, Chagrin Falls, Kent, Ravenna and Stow. JW rep Amos Nichols said if the Aurora facility is built, the Streetsboro and Chagrin Falls locations would no longer operate.
"All of our meetings are open to the public, seats are free and no collections are ever taken," JW rep Marco Iafano said. "Families are encouraged to come together and learn principles that help build successful families."
He explained activity at the site would mostly occur on a mid-week night and Sunday mornings. He estimated 30 to 40 vehicles would be in the parking lot for worship services, and "we would not produce any negative traffic impacts.
"Having a place of worship on this property would not significantly alter the nature of the district; rather it would help maintain the current characteristics of it," he said, adding the building would be designed in the Western Reserve style.
Nichols explained the congregation has searched for a local site for about a year. JW rep Mark Stoner added the congregation looked at acquiring the United Methodist property on North Aurora Road, but it is too large and too expensive for the group’s needs.
Nichols said if the CZC is granted and planners OK a final site plan, the new building should be ready for occupation in five to six months.
A handful of residents spoke at a public hearing during the meeting, most expressing concerns the Kingdom Hall would add to already congested traffic along Route 43. Stormwater issues also were mentioned.
Plans show that the ingress / egress point to the property would be onto Route 43, and residents feared people exiting the property may encounter long waits trying to pull out on Route 43.
They also cited two nearby access points to Aurora Farms, plus the access road to the two schools and intersection of Yorkshire Drive, as concerns that could further snarl traffic.
Resident Deb Conti said if a detention basin is needed on the site, it could pose a safety hazard to students attending the nearby schools.
Resident Missy Maxwell said she believes the proposed use is not comparable with the O-1 office zoning that’s in place there, and the facility would not fit in with the character of the area.
Stoner pointed out Hope Lutheran Church is just a few lots from the proposed site, and the zoning code states facilities for non-profit groups are permitted in the O-1 district.
Resident Del Dunbar cited the busy nature of the Route 43 corridor. He called the property "prime land for development," and the city should try to get some tax value out of it.
Reporter Ken Lahmers can be reached at 330-541-9400 Ext. 4189 or firstname.lastname@example.org