BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — When plans for a 7,500-seat amphitheater near the US 24/SR 64 interchange were announced on July 7, the reaction was swift and ranged from excitement to outright opposition.
Some are concerned the plans are already a done deal or that the city hasn’t done its homework. Most people have questions.
“It’s a process, and we’re following it,” said Waterville Mayor Tim Pedro, who has received a lot of questions that will be addressed during the city’s Monday, August 1 Planning Commis-sion meeting.
“My message to our citizens is that we are going to have public hearings. Folks will have a chance to express their understanding or ask questions. Some of those have to be answered by the developer,” Pedro said.
During the meeting, representatives will share details about the open-air amphitheater, which is proposed to have 5,200 fixed, stadium-style seats, 22 to 25 box suites and a grass area for general admission for a capacity of up to 9,375. A parking lot of 2,500 spaces would also be included on 26 acres just south of the property owned by Meijer, off South Pray Boulevard.
In advance of the meeting, the project principals, including Hunter Brucks, president and CEO of HB Concerts Inc. and HB Management, along with Waterville natives John Henry, vice president of HBC Management, and Chris Campbell, president and CEO of Devonshire REIT, have provided more information for the Plan-ning Commission, said city administrator Jon Goch-enour.
In addition, city staff members are gathering information, including stats on comparable venues, such as Blossom Music Center, Rose Music Center, Rivers Edge Pavilion and Jacob’s Pavilion.
“The Planning Commis-sion will consider any impact that this would have on the city: the size of the building, parking, lighting, traffic, noise, as well as how they would get people in and out of the facility, hours of operation and how many shows a year they would have,” Gochenour said.
Police and fire chiefs will look at safety factors and how other communities have handled large crowds.
“It’s something that we’re looking at in a comprehensive manner,” Gochenour added.
The project proposal first became public on June 27, when the applicant requested a conditional use permit to construct the amphitheater in the area that is zoned C-4 or mixed-use business district. Using standard procedure, council referred the matter to the Planning Commission for review.
“It’s permitted in a commercial area but needs a permit because of the size and potential impacts on other properties in the vicinity. The Planning Commission will take into account residential impacts nearby and the effect that the traffic will have on the intersection,” Gochenour said.
Initially, the Planning Commission was set to review the application on July 11 but needed to wait for more information and thus delayed its review until its regularly scheduled meeting, which is the first Monday of the month.
“Basically, the process is just starting, and it’s going to follow the review that everyone else has to follow when they have a building project – it’s just a little bigger,” Gochenour said.
The public is welcome to attend the meeting, but the Planning Commission’s primary job is to not only review the information provided but also ask questions of the applicant. After that question-and-answer session, a public comment period will be provided, and residents will need to go to the podium to speak. Written comments submitted in advance will also be provided to both the Planning Commission and council. These can be emailed to email@example.com.
The Planning Commis-sion will take all of this information in and make a recommendation to council – either after the August 1 meeting or a follow-up meeting.
“If the Planning Commission feels they need to hold another meeting, they could, but they have to make a decision eventually,” Gochenour said.
That decision will be provided to the city council, which will listen to the recommendation and then hold three readings at public meetings. If a decision is passed along for a first reading during council’s Monday, August 22 meeting, the second and third readings would be held on September 12 and 26, with a public hearing on September 26. Ultimately, it’s council’s decision on whether to approve the permit.
“With the three readings at council, there will be plenty of opportunities to speak and have your voice heard,” Pedro said.
During the past few weeks, both Pedro and Gochenour have heard a wide range of opinions and questions.
“It’s been about 50/50 in favor or those who don’t want it in the community,” Pedro said. “A few just say that they want more information.”
It’s not unusual for Pedro to get questions about potential businesses coming to town, but he said he’s unable to react until a plan is officially submitted. In the case of the amphitheater, the developers chose to release most of the information through the media first. That’s fine, he noted, but the Planning Commission needs to go through all of the potential impacts.
Gochenour wanted to clear up that the city is not providing any financing or subsidies toward the project, which while large, is unlikely to attract multiple hotels and restaurants, he believes.
“It might lead to some other development in the Pray Boulevard area but not like the Huntington Center. It’s the nature of the project – being only open six months out of the year,” he said.
Fast food restaurants typically look at the number of rooftops in the area when considering a location, rather than a seasonal operation. The combined population of Whitehouse and Waterville is probably enough to attract a restaurant, but so far most of the inquiries Gochenour has received about land have been for medical and dental facilities. Auto Zone, which seems to choose locations near O’Reilly Auto Parts, has also inquired about land.
If the city does approve the conditional use permit for the amphitheater, the developer would need to get a building plan approved by the county, as well as EPA and other approvals, before beginning work.