AURORA -- Members of a Facebook page called "Geauga Lake" have suggested a variety of visions for the redevelopment of 650 acres at the former Geauga Lake and Sea World sites in Aurora and Bainbridge Township.
Aurora Mayor Ann Womer Benjamin and Bainbridge Township Trustee Lorrie Benza have said some of those ideas are realistic under specific circumstances, and others are not.
Participants on the Geauga Lake Facebook page said they would like to see the Cedar Fair-owned land turned into a park, ideally an amusement park.
Womer Benjamin said the city of Aurora would not buy the land in partnership with Bainbridge and turn it into a park.
"We do not have the money to fund a project like that, nor are we in the business of developing land ourselves," she said. "When we purchase land, we usually have a specific park- or green space-related reason for doing so."
As a township, Benza said Bainbridge would not be able to participate in such a plan either. She said the township has to follow the rules of the Ohio Revised Code, which would not permit it. "Truthfully, we don't have the legal authority to do that," she said.
Benza also said Bainbridge has a wealth of community parks. "We already have four parks, the largest of which is Centerville Mills," she said.
Given Meijer's plan to build on what used to be the Geauga Lake parking lot along Route 43, some Geauga Lake Facebook posters expressed concern that the area could become a commercial development full of big box stores.
Womer Benjamin said the mixed use zoning in Aurora would prevent that from happening. "I don't think it's permitted on the Bainbridge side either," she said. "But [Meijer] already had its permit application in."
Both Womer Benjamin and Benza said it's not the municipalities that drive the development process; it's whoever ends up buying the property. So far, Meijer and Liberty Ford are the only ones which have advanced plans for portions of the property.
Womer Benjamin said she plans to work closely with any buyer to develop plans that conform with the city's vision for the property.
"We expect that we'd speak to any buyer, once it is identified, about the city's interest in having an easement of some sort along the waterside for a boardwalk."
Another proposal by a Facebook poster was moving Aurora Farms Premium Outlets to the property, but Womer Benjamin said that would be up to the owners of Aurora Farms.
Some of the Facebook posters specifically emphasized preserving a strip of land around the lake for public use, as a trail with picnic areas, playgrounds and maybe even small-scale amusement park rides.
Womer Benjamin said public open space with some of these features is encouraged by the city's zoning regulations. The mixed-use zoning passed by Aurora voters would permit single-family housing, certain recreational uses, commercial and office uses, restaurants, and more, she explained.
"On the conceptual plan that has been put together, it shows where residential might be appropriate and where some commercial and retail might be appropriate," she said.
Benza said Bainbridge shares that vision and has its own mixed-use zoning that mirrors Aurora's.
"I know that when Aurora updated its master plan and created development guidelines, we kind of wanted to piggy-back on it to make a cohesive approach," she said.
Womer Benjamin also said the developer must make an effort to incorporate Western Reserve architecture and walkable streetscapes, as well as incorporate elements of local history.
"Passive recreation is encouraged around the existing lake," she said, which could mean trails, grassy open areas, bike lanes, and more. In addition, she said a connection from Route 43 to the lakefront is required.
Womer Benjamin said the zoning for the area allows up to 2.5 units per acre as an average for the property.
The conceptual master plan developed by Cedar Fair as a marketing tool for the park appears to share the vision of preserving the lakefront as a public space and promotes the idea of retaining some elements of nostalgia for the days of the amusement park.
On the first page of the plan is a conceptual rendering of what one area of the lakefront could look like. It features a carousel, picnic tables and a boardwalk around portions of the lake with shopping set back further.
"Ultimately, we'd like to see some economically productive uses in this area, uses that benefit the residents of Aurora, Bainbridge and Northeast Ohio," said Womer Benjamin. "This is a huge piece of ground."
Encouraging a developer to incorporate a park-like setting is just one piece of the larger vision for the property. "I think this could be a very lovely area once developed, and our requirements help frame that," said Womer Benjamin.
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