Aurora planning panel rejects funeral home proposal

Ken Lahmers
Special to the Record-Courier
Aurora, Ohio

AURORA – A proposal to locate a funeral home in the former Masonic Temple building on West Pioneer Trail has been rejected by the city’s planning commission.

At its Dec. 2 session, the panel voted 4-0 not to grant Gary Best’s request for a conditional zoning certificate so he can locate a funeral home in the building in front of Aurora High School. One planning panelist was absent.

Panelists Jim Maulis and Sarah Gilmore summed up the decision by saying while they are supportive of a funeral home coming to Aurora, they believe the proposed location is “not appropriate.”

Chairwoman Kathi Grandillo cited the fact that the building is very close to the high school, Fire Station 1, ballfields and the Kiwanis-Moore Playground, where there already is considerable traffic at certain times of the day and evening.

“The fire department responds to several emergency calls every day, and I am concerned funeral processions could interfere with emergency responses,” she said.

At the panel’s Nov. 18 meeting, a half dozen local residents spoke out against the proposed use, while two favored it.

The 1.38-acre property is in an R-3 residential zoning district. Best had claimed a funeral home is similar to a cemetery or place of worship, which are conditionally permitted in a residential district. The property is surrounded by city- and school district-owned land.

The two-level building was erected in 1968, and the property includes a 100-car parking lot. W.K. Ricksecker Masonic Lodge 606 merged with Kent’s Rockton Lodge 316 in 2019, and the building is no longer needed by the lodge.

The city’s economic development director, Holly Harris Bane, said she will work with Best, who owns a funeral home in Middlefield, to look for a possible alternative site for a local funeral home.

At the Nov. 18 session, Best said he looked at the former Aurora Country Club building on Trails End and a couple of other vacant buildings in the city, but they are unsuitable for his needs.

Resident Deb Conti, who lives in the Town Center area, said she wants to see an appropriate entity occupy the vacant building, but she suggested city officials conduct a traffic study of the area before any other future use is considered.

OTHER BUSINESS

Voters likely will see a rezoning issue on the May 2021 primary election ballot after the panel favored a zoning change from I-1 industrial to M-1 mixed use for 16.4 acres at the Bertram Inn and Conference Center on North Aurora Road.

If the rezoning is approved, Heritage Capital Corp. plans to convert about 70 to 75 rooms at the inn to condominiums. City Council has the final say on whether the issue will go to the ballot. Its next meeting is Dec. 14, and a public hearing is necessary before Council acts.

For the issue to go to voters in the spring, the city would have to send it to the Portage County Board of Elections by early February.

If the rezoning is ultimately OK’d by voters, Heritage officials would keep about 150 rooms for overnight lodging, and would continue to operate the conference center, banquet and meeting facilities, outdoor pool and two restaurants.

The panel approved a lot split for Peter French, who plans to add 5 acres to his existing 20 acres on the south side of East Mennonite Road, across from Sunny Lake Park. The parcels are just to the east of the park’s three ballfields.

Two items were accepted for study – a final site plan for the proposed 16-lot Iris Place housing development between the Barrington swim/tennis club and the Atrium at Anna Maria, and a fence variance for South Sussex Drive resident Ryan Terrano.

Heritage Capital spokesman Rob Benjamin said the homes in the subdivision would be in the low $400,000 price range, and the firm has applied for a wetlands permit for about a half-acre.

Terrano seeks to erect a fence around a swimming pool, which would encroach 10 feet into a wetlands. A public hearing on his variance request will take place at the panel’s Dec. 16 meeting.

Contact the newspaper at 330-541-9433, or auroraadvocate@recordpub.com