Industrial development question heads to Aurora voters, but neighbors aren’t happy

Aurora City Council is hoping voters will approve the rezoning of 24 residential acres into industrial. Image via the City of Aurora

Aurora voters will decide in November whether to rezone a 25-acre residential parcel to accommodate a 100,000-square-foot industrial development on state Route 43.

On June 27, city council unanimously endorsed the idea, which was recommended by the city’s planning commission and backed by Aurora 43 South LLC, which owns the land.

In its application, Aurora 43 South said its expansion would generate payroll income for the city without demanding much in the way of city services. And it would not put pressure on the school district in the way that residential development would.

But not everyone is on board. 

The vacant land is across state Route 43 from Aurora Industrial Park Drive, and backs onto Rainbow’s End, part of Aurora’s Walden development. It is adjacent to industrial land to the south and east. Single family homes on large lots are to the north, and Walden’s community open space is to the west.

The building could be as tall as 45 feet and will likely be used as a distribution or office site, Aurora Mayor Ann Womer Benjamin said. No specific use has been mentioned as Aurora 43 South is building the structure on spec, hoping a buyer or tenant will materialize.

But residents of the area are concerned that the rezoning would allow for other, more bothersome uses that could affect their quality of life.

Harry and Diane South of Rainbow’s End spoke during a public hearing prior to city council’s vote. The Souths expressed concern that the ballot language voters will see does not specify how the property could be used. They urged council to provide written clarification.

The rezoning would apply to 25.42 acres, changing them from “R-4 Residential” to “I-1: Manufacturing, Processing, and Wholesaling District.” According to the city’s own zoning code, Harry South said, I-1 districts allow for metal processing, fabrication, plastic molding, oil and gas, and contractor yard storage facilities.

“That’s not light commercial,” he said. “That’s a pretty broad spectrum that could very easily be heavy industrial. We could have a heat treating plant behind us. We could have a plastic injection plant behind us. Those have smoke. They have smell. If it’s fabrication we could have welding glare, and there’s no restriction saying they can’t come right to our property line.”

It is deceptive, the Souths allege, to omit allowed uses in I-1 zoning districts from the ballot.

They, and their neighbor Bill Keckan, are concerned about future developments.

When the trees drop their leaves, Keckan says he can see 500-1,000 feet into Aurora 43 South’s property. He doesn’t believe he will be able to see the building currently proposed, but the owner, or a future one, could easily decide to develop the land closer to Rainbow’s End.

“Ten years from now, who’s to say what they want to do with the rest of the land, and it’s their land?” Keckan asked. “There’s nothing to prevent them from doing that.”

At its nearest point, the South’s property is about 115 feet from the property to be rezoned. Walden Hospitality owns the vacant, wooded land between the two properties. Beyond, on Aurora 43 South’s property, is a landscape of felled trees partially obscured by growing brush. (Aurora has since banned clearcutting, but the trees still remain where they fell.)

The language on the ballot will read: “Shall the proposed amendment of the City of Aurora Zoning Map amending the zoning of approximately 25.42 acres located on South Chillicothe Road/State Route 43 also known as permanent parcel numbers 03-020-00-00-013-000, 03-020-00-00-014-000 and 03-020-00-00-015-000 be revised from its current classification of R-4 Residential to an amended classification of I-1: Manufacturing, Processing and Wholesaling District be adopted?”

Ward 3 Councilwoman Reva Barner supported the Souths but voted for placing the zoning amendment on the November ballot, saying she is confident the city will only approve acceptable light industrial uses for the property, or any other in city limits.

“I feel there should be verbiage that is more clear to the voters, that if it’s going to be industrial then it is spelled out what could be going into that place,” Barner said after the June meeting. “When you go to do something, you want to know what you’re getting into. When you go to sign something, you want to have it in writing. They don’t want to be surprised at what’s going to be in their backyard.”

Specific uses will be evaluated on a case by case basis, Planning, Zoning and Building Director Denise Januska said.

Also providing assurance was Law Director Dean DePiero, who said the city’s planning commission has a tremendous amount of discretion. 

Aurora’s zoning code recognizes the city’s residential character and is not about to accept heavy-type industrial establishments that emit high degrees of smoke, odor, vibration, glare or other unpleasant characteristics.

“If the zoning change is approved by voters, any plan proposed would have to go back to the Planning Commission and Architectural Board of Review and would be held to these standards,” Womer Benjamin said.

“In addition, the city works with developers to be responsive to resident concerns,” she said. “If the use is not a permitted use, then it would need to go through the conditional zoning process, another hurdle where further conditions could be applied to the proposed use of the property.”

In this case, the development will not affect residents at all because buffering will be in place, DePiero said.

What form that buffering will take, or how wide the buffer will be, remains undecided. It could include a variety of elements, such as trees, mounding or fencing, along with restrictions on how close construction could come to the residential area, Womer Benjamin said, adding that the building is planned for the front of the property, near state Route 43.

In accepting the application, the Planning Commission reasoned that:

  • Vacant industrial land in Aurora has decreased as new industries have been built.
  • Uses on surrounding properties are in character with the proposed I-1 zoning district.
  • The adjacent property to the south and east are already zoning industrial, with existing industrial structures and uses.
  • The industrial area along state Route 43 between Mennonite Road and the southern city limits continues to be a prime location for economic development.
  • Aurora continues to offer new and expanding tax incentives to help defray the costs of capital expansions that support new jobs and increase the city’s tax base.
  • A large buffer is proposed in the rear of the property for the residential area.

Womer Benjamin said Aurora 43 South had planned to install homes or condos several years ago, but after discussions with the city and a change in the marketplace, it is now seeking to rezone the property to industrial use. 

“Concerns about topography and drainage, among other things, resulted in the plans being modified several times, with fewer homes, causing the owner to look at other options,” she said. 

“The city’s industrial area needs additional space and this is a logical location to which to expand it, adjacent to the city’s current industrial area,” she explained. “An industrial building constructed near the street with extensive buffering would have less impact on the adjacent residential areas than multiple housing units.”

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Wendy DiAlesandro is a former Record Publishing Co. reporter and contributing writer for The Portager.