BAINBRIDGE – A company seeking to purchase 376 acres of former Geauga Lake Park land, and redevelop a portion of it, has taken the township to court over denial of variances needed to proceed with its plans for redevelopment.
An adminstrative appeal is pending in Geauga County Common Pleas Court after Industrial Commercial Properties LLC of Solon filed an administrative appeal of the township’s board of zoning appeals rejection of several variances on Jan. 16.
"The ICP appeal is pending with the Geauga County Common Pleas Court, and the township is working with legal counsel and the applicant to resolve the issue," said Township Trustee Jeffrey Markley.
The firm claims the denial was illegal, unreasonable, unconstitutional, arbitrary, capricious and not supported by preponderance of substantial, reliable and probative evidence. "The variances should have been granted to avoid an unconstitutional taking of property," said the appeal.
At the BZA’s meeting, ICP argued the variances were "not substantial," the development plan fits the intent of the mixed use planned development district and it is compatible with existing and proposed development in the area.
The township sent transcripts of the BZA’s Jan. 16 proceedings to the court on March 31. The case has been assigned to Judge Carolyn J. Paschke. Attorneys representing the firm are Dale Markowitz and Bridey Matheney, while those representing the township are Thomas A. FitzSimmons and Christopher O’Connell.
Markowitz said there have been no new developments in the appeal case since the transcripts were sent to the court.
Last December, Bainbridge Zoning Inspector Karen Endres disapproved ICP’s application for a zoning certificate to erect two "big box" retail buildings along Route 43, some smaller businesses (retail and offices) on the east side of Geauga Lake and up to 370 units of single-family and multi-family housing on the north side of the lake.
The land to be redeveloped is bordered by Route 43 and Depot and Brewster roads, and is in an area which was rezoned a few years ago to mixed-use planned development. ICP has an agreement to purchase the 376 acres from Geauga Lake LLC (Cedar Fair).
Of the total property, 320 acres are in Bainbridge Township and the remainder is in Aurora between Squires Road and the lake. ICP officials said they are not looking to develop the Aurora portion or Bainbridge portion north of Depot Road at this time.
After the zoning certificate was disapproved, ICP requested variances to allow "heavy retail," larger lot sizes than the permitted 50,000 square feet, development in a manner other than a planned unit development (a conditional use) and multi-family apartments with first-floor residential use within 500 feet of Geauga Lake.
Bainbridge’s mixed-use zoning requires that residences cannot be built within 500 feet of the lake. It allows multi-family housing, but not on the first floor of a multi-story building; the first floor must be reserved for commercial purposes.
Creation of the mixed-use zoning district included allowing the Meijer chain to build a "superstore" in the main parking lot of the former amusement park because the chain previously had proposed doing so. Meijer eventually withdrew those plans.
All five members of the BZA voted not to grant the variances after lengthy discussion. The panelists and several nearby residents expressed concerns about whether the area could support more retail development, increased traffic and how the project would affect water quality.
BZA member Ted DeWater said the board did not feel it was appropriate to vary from the mixed-use zoning district requirements. "They were asking for a lot of variances and we don't want to be in the business of granting variances to get a project done when there's zoning in place that should be followed," he said.
ICP officials said the two "big box" stores would be about 157,000 and 174,000 square feet and "would be occupied by top class industry leaders." About 270 apartment units on 18 acres are planned in several three-story buildings, and another 90 to 100 units on 20 acres would be for 55 years and older residents.
ICP reps added the multi-family units would range from about 800 to 1,300 square feet, and the 55 and older homes would be between 1,300 and 1,800 square feet.
It was noted the area to be redeveloped would include a lot of green space. ICP reps said a former theater and aquarium on the east side of the lake could be repurposed, and one of the areas for smaller commercial businesses could include a "historic center" devoted to the former Geauga Lake and Sea World parks.
ICP reps said the company has redeveloped the former Randall Park Mall property, which is now occupied by an Amazon fulfillment center, developed the new Goodyear world headquarters in Akron and created about 2,000 jobs at the former American Greetings headquarters. It manages 42 million square feet in four states, with 140 buildings occupied by more than 300 tenants.
In March, Aurora Council approved a memorandum of understanding between the city, the township and ICP, which could pave the way for further talks about forming a Joint Economic Development District to cover the Cedar Fair acreage in Bainbridge.
"If a JEDD is formed, Aurora would provide water and sewer lines to the property at a rate 20 percent over what it charges to customers within the city’s boundaries," explained Mayor Ann Womer Benjamin.
"The parties would divide the income taxes generated in the JEDD four ways – 25 percent each to the city, Bainbridge, a JEDD maintenance fund to be managed by the JEDD board and a city utility fund to support the infrastructure needed to provide water and sewer service."
The mayor said ICP needs utilities, and Aurora will only provide them if a JEDD is created. Talks about forming a JEDD have been under way between Aurora and Bainbridge Township officials for a couple of years.
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