One of Bainbridge’s biggest successes of 2020 involved Geauga Lake and the surrounding property once home to a Cedar Fair, L.P. amusement park. After months of negotiations with Industrial Commercial Properties of Solon, the township entered into a public-private partnership to develop the property into the potential mixed-use Geauga Lake District.

BAINBRIDGE — The year started off bumpy for Bainbridge, but by the end, things seem to be falling into place for the township.

After the township Board of Zoning Appeals’ denial of variances for plans to develop land around Geauga Lake in January, Bainbridge landed in a lawsuit in the Geauga County Common Pleas Court with Industrial Commercial Properties, LLC.

In January of 2020, the Bainbridge BZA denied four variance requests for ICP’s proposed development in the township’s mixed-use planned unit development, or MUP, district, including the allowance for heavy retail, multi-family dwelling apartments with first-floor residential use, lots larger than 50,000 square feet and residential use within 500 feet of the lake. These were all things prohibited in the MUP district.

Bridey Matheney of Thrasher, Dinsmore & Dolan filed the administrative appeal on behalf of ICP on Feb. 21, and since then the township and ICP had been in closed-door negotiations with the issue pending in Judge Carolyn Paschke’s court.

The township managed to mediate outside of court, and after months of negotiations with the Solon developer, they landed on an agreement and the case was closed by the end of October.

Township trustees made their formal announcement that they formed a new public-private partnership for the 276-acre site within the township and the city of Aurora with ICP at the beginning of November. The trustees noted in a township meeting following the announcement, however, that some details are still in negotiations and that this would be an ongoing process.

This would not have been possible without the work put into a separate, but related, negotiation with Aurora.

After Bainbridge rekindled discussions for a joint economic development district, or JEDD, at the beginning of the year, the township and Aurora spent months in negotiations for the establishment of a JEDD for the portion of the former Geauga Lake Amusement Park property located in the township.

In this JEDD, Aurora will provide water services to the township property at a premium in exchange for a portion of the income tax revenue generated in the district. It also established a board of directors made up of representatives from both communities and potential employees and employers of the district.

The two municipalities unanimously approved this agreement in their respective Oct. 28 trustees and council meetings.

With the Bainbridge-Aurora JEDD in place and a partnership established with ICP, Bainbridge will be home to a new Menards supercenter on Aurora Road (Route 43) that will kick off further development of the property, soon to be called the Geauga Lake District.

While Geauga Lake took most of the spotlight throughout the year, Bainbridge is also in the works of hammering out the details for other developments in the township.

A Chipotle Mexican Grill, originally proposed alongside a Starbucks for the former Ruby Tuesday site at the Marketplace at Four Corners, has plans in the works for the former Steak ’n’ Shake building at 7020 Aurora Road by Giles Road. Representatives of the popular fast-food eatery came to the trustees in March with updated plans, which were then approved later that month.

Taking the place of Chipotle for the Ruby Tuesday site is a Taco Bell, as proposed during a December trustees meeting. Instead of one structure for both Starbucks and Taco Bell, however, the developers are looking to construct two separate structures, each with their own drive-thru. A decision had yet to be made on the new proposal as of mid-December with “offline” discussions in progress to finalize architectural plans for the trustees’ approval.

A more controversial project in the works involves Signature Square of Bainbridge and the installation of a development near one of the busiest crossroads in Geauga County. The development itself, however, is not officially cause for controversy, rather the rezoning of the property proposed for its location.

Otero Signature Homes Design has its sights set on a vacant property in the township’s rural residential, R-3A, district, with plans in place to rezone it as a convenience business, or CB, district. The development would be located on two parcels of land at 16832 Chillicothe Road near the intersection of Chillicothe Road and East Washington Street.

The township continued the hearing over three meetings, starting in August toward the end of September when they closed the hearing. The rezoning and preliminary plans for the development drew both support and opposition, with concerns focusing on the development’s impact on traffic at the busy crossroads as well as the nearby Dalebrook Estates Subdivision.

In a special meeting on Oct. 16, the trustees ultimately denied the rezoning, citing concerns surrounding a deed restriction agreement, which is what the developer had in place for the planned purchase of the property. While the trustees said they were in support of the development, they felt a consent judgement entry would be necessary to ensure the protection of the surrounding community in the event a deed restriction is successfully challenged in court, potentially eliminating any protections.

The trustees denied the rezoning, but with both parties’ understanding that their collaboration with each other would quickly follow to establish a consent entry that would hold the same protections of the deed restriction, but enforceable under Ohio Revised Code. On Oct. 19, J. Jaredd Flynn of Thrasher, Dinsmore & Dolan appealed the denial for a declaratory judgement to “kick in” the township’s ability to negotiate a consent judgement entry. Negotiations are still underway between the entities.

On the simpler side of things, the township kicked off fundraising efforts for River Road Park playground equipment in February, only for the initiative to pause due to the coronavirus pandemic. Come summertime, however, the trustees agreed to reignite the effort until they met their match by this fall.

The playground was razed in the summer of 2019 due to deteriorating and unsafe conditions of the equipment. By mid-December, however, the township unloaded at least two truck-fulls of a new playset from Snider Recreation, Inc. The trustees agreed to set aside $80,000 toward the playground and earmarked $20,000 for drainage repairs to the site.

The township trustees passed a resolution on Nov. 23 to name the playground “Kari’s Play World” in memory of Kenston High School graduate Kari Friedman, who was killed in a tragic car accident in Montana more than six years ago. Ms. Friedman’s family donated $35,000 toward the playground.

The trustees will hold a formal ribbon cutting ceremony for the new equipment at a later date, post-COVID-19, to honor all donors to the fundraiser.

Sam Cottrill started reporting for the Times in February 2019 and covers Auburn, Bainbridge, Bentleyville and Chagrin, Kenston, Solon and West Geauga schools. She graduated from Kent State University in 2018 with a bachelor's degree in journalism.

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