BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — Waterville City Council faced a choice on January 23: Either rescind its November decision to approve a special use permit to allow an open-air amphitheater on Pray Boulevard or refer to the Lucas County Board of Elections a referendum petition filed by a group of citizens to recall that decision.
“It’s going to be out of our hands,” said Mayor Tim Pedro. “The board will make a decision, and that could take three to five weeks.”
The board of elections verified that of the 1,098 signatures submitted on a referendum petition, 952 are valid – many more than the 681 required. That’s enough to put a referendum on the ballot if it meets certain qualifications.
“The board of elections determines the sufficiency and legality of the petition, which includes whether or not the ordinance is legislative or administrative,” said the city’s assistant law director, Kati Tharp.
Administrative action is defined as a current law being enforced, while legislative action is when a new law is being made, Tharp said. Referendums are only permitted on legislative actions.
Wayne Wagner, a resident who led the referendum effort, said attorneys assisting his group have stated they believe that council made legislative actions within its administrative actions, and therefore a referendum is valid.
“They could have rescinded it (the decision to issue the permit) and ended it right here, but they didn’t do it,” said resident Anthony Garver, who was unhappy with the decision.
For Hunter Brucks, the president and CEO of HB Concerts – the applicant for the amphitheater project – Monday’s decision was a relief.
“We live to fight another day,” Brucks said, noting that his attorneys believe the city council’s action was administrative.
“There has been a ton of noise from a small group of people. It’s something I’ve never seen in all my years of doing business. We’re going to continue to forge on,” Brucks said, adding that his team continues to work on meeting the 25 conditions of the permit.
Matt Dickey was the only resident at the meeting to support the project, calling himself one of a silent majority who want to see Waterville continue to grow.
Resident Matt Harrell disagreed, noting that during his canvassing for signatures for the referendum, he estimated those opposed to the amphitheater outnumbered those in favor by a margin of eight or nine to one.
While only 48 people were permitted in council chambers for the meeting, 143 were watching the meeting as it streamed live on YouTube. The streaming was an option added after many residents requested that the meeting be moved to a larger venue. Pedro said that other locations were not available without significant disruption or cost, and that putting the meeting online made it available to all.
“Waterville residents have a legal right to attend the meeting,” said Shannon Bostelman in an email to The Mirror. “This proposed amphitheater is the biggest issue to ever happen in Waterville. They should accommodate any residents who want to attend!”
She also shared photos taken on Monday morning of barricades set up outside council chamber doors in the parking lot. That gave the appearance that the city doesn’t want citizens involved, Garver said. The barricades were removed by a 5:00 p.m. press conference hosted by Pedro. He said the barricades were a test to see what options were available for keeping people safe as they gathered in the parking lot. Police Chief Joe Valvano said that it would also prevent noise from crowds mingling outside from interrupting the council meeting when the doors opened.
As the meeting started, Tharp advised the audience not to speak out except during the citizens’ comments portion of the agenda. She also asked council members to refrain from speaking about the amphitheater, as legal action is currently underway.
An administrative appeal was filed by Timothy Plowman and other Mill Creek subdivision homeowners and will be heard by Judge Lindsay Navarre. Last week, Brucks’ attorney filed a motion to intervene and to be a part of that case.
In a separate matter, the Lucas County Board of Elections ruled on a request by resident Adam Freeman to remove Anthony Bruno from the voter rolls. Bruno, who owns property in Springfield Township, proved that he still lives in Waterville, according to the board of elections, and will still be permitted to remain on council.
A group of citizens, in the meantime, is gathering signatures to recall Bruno and John Rozic from their positions on council. The two men were among four members of council to vote in favor of the amphitheater conditional use permit.
While council members Barb Bruno and Todd Borowski also voted yes, the citizens decided to initiate a recall of the two men because their terms are not up until the end of 2025. Barb Bruno is term-limited and cannot run again after her term expires at the end of this year. Mary Duncan and Pedro voted against the permit. Rod Frey recused himself from voting. Todd Borowski voted yes but is up for re-election at the end of this year.
Borowski and Frey said they both plan to run again for council. Garver, Harrell and Wagner have all indicated that they are filing petitions to run for one of the three council seats. Plowman said he plans to run for the office of mayor. Pedro said he’s also seeking re-election. The deadline to file petitions is Wednesday, February 1 at 4:00 p.m.
During the meeting, council also:
• Discussed an announcement by the Lucas County Engineer’s Office that it has federal funding to install a roundabout at the intersection of Dutch Road and the Anthony Wayne Trail in 2028.
In hearing a request by Taco Bell to rezone 6521 Hutchinson Dr. from C-1 Neighborhood Commer-cial to C-4 Mixed Use Business Commercial, the city engineer recommended that the Taco Bell owners add another 100 feet of left-turn lane from westbound Dutch Road onto the Anthony Wayne Trail.
Administrator Jon Gochenour said that as the Taco Bell would be built this year, the turn lane is still necessary since it will be five years before the roundabout is constructed.
A third reading and a vote on a request to rezone for the construction of the Taco Bell will be held on Monday, February 13 at 7:30 p.m.
• Reviewed the five-year capital planning program and held a third reading of the fiscal year 2023 annual appropriations.