Aurora-Bainbridge Township JEDD agreement closer to reality

Ken Lahmers, correspondent
The area shaded in green shows the acreage included in the proposed Bainbridge-Aurora JEDD. The area zoned for mix-used development is between Route 43 and Depot Road (heavy black line), while the area between Depot and Brewster roads is zone residential. The Aurora city limits are below the JEDD zone.

AURORA — A long-awaited Joint Economic Development District agreement between the city and Bainbridge Township for 332 acres of former Geauga Lake Park property is working its way toward approval by Council.

After an executive session prior to Council’s regular Aug. 17 meeting, the agreement was placed on first reading. A public hearing will take place Sept. 28, after which Council likely will take action.

The JEDD acreage is bounded mostly by the Aurora border, Route 43 and Depot Road (zoned for mixed-use development), but some land between Depot Road and Brewster Road (zone residential) also is included. Most of Geauga Lake is within the district.

In Ohio, a JEDD is an arrangement where one or more municipalities and a township agree to work together to develop township land for commercial or industrial purposes. The communities share income tax paid by employees of district businesses, and the municipalities provide water and/or sewer services to the township land.

In this area, JEDDs have been formed between Macedonia and Northfield Center Township, Kent and Brimfield Township and Tallmadge and Brimfield Township.

“This agreement has been discussed, negotiated and debated since I became mayor seven years ago, and discussions undoubtedly occurred even before that,” said Mayor Ann Womer Benjamin. “When the township trustees abandoned discussions three years ago, it was up to them to resume outreach, and we appreciate that they have done so.

“I believe this current agreement fairly allocates responsibilities and benefits between the city and the township, and recognizes the significance of the appropriate development of a prominent piece of property in Northeast Ohio. I am grateful that all parties have been able — finally — to reach an agreement that will benefit the entire region.”

When the JEDD is approved by both communities, a board will impose an income tax on workers at district businesses and on net profits of the businesses. A 2% initial income tax is being proposed. If the city raises its current 2% rate and upon approval by both communities, the tax levied in the JEDD may be increased to equal the highest rate levied by the city.

The tax revenue will be split among the city, township and JEDD board to support economic development, new public infrastructure and its maintenance and enhancement of law enforcement, fire protection and emergency medical services. Aurora will provide water and sanitary sewer services to existing and future businesses and residences there.

The agreement proposes to pay 25% of net revenue to each of the city, township and board, and the remaining 25% will be placed into a utility fund. It would initially be in effect for 50 years, with two, 25-year additional terms, and can be terminated by mutual consent.

The JEDD board will consist of one person appointed by the city and one by the township, one representing owners of district businesses, one representing persons employed in the JEDD and one neutral member selected by a majority of the other members who will serve as chairman. All members serve without compensation.

Development plan in court

A development plan submitted with a zoning variance request by Industrial Commercial Properties LLC shows a mixed residential, retail and commercial development of 332 acres that was formerly part of the Geauga Lake Amusement Park and would be part of a Joint Economic Development District between Bainbridge Township and Aurora.

While the city and township are considering the agreement, a company that wants to develop the JEDD property has filed an administrative appeal in Geauga County Common Pleas Court after Bainbridge Township in February turned down its request for several variances. 

The Cleveland-based development firm Industrial Commercial Properties LLC requested use and area variances for the Bainbridge Township property. The firm has a pending sales agreement with the property owner Geauga Lake LLC and wants to build a mixed retail, residential and commercial development on the land, which is zoned Mixed Use Planned Unit Development.

The retail area would include a pair of large buildings — around 174,000 and 157,000 square feet — for “commercial retailers and supercenters,” along with a pair of smaller retail areas off of Aurora Road, according to the application before the township. The residential area would include multi-family and single-family homes for people age 55 and older.

According to the company’s application, the use variance would be to allow “heavy retail” and apartments where there are no first-floor dwellings. The area variances would be needed to build residential units within 500 feet of the lake’s high water mark, and for large lots needed for commercial retail.

“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,” Township Trustee Jeffrey Markley said a couple of months ago. According to Geauga County court records, the case remains open.

At the trustees’ July 13 meeting, Markley said township officials are excited about the prospects for establishment of a JEDD and are looking forward to announcing plans for the property.

Geauga Lake Park closed in 2007, and its water park in 2016. Aurora and Bainbridge have zoned most of the property within the boundaries of each community for mixed-use development. Pulte Homes is planning to build more than 300 homes on 247 acres north of Treat Road in Aurora, which was the former Sea World of Ohio parking lot and a campground.

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