Waterville Planning Commission Tables Hearing On Amphitheater

John Henry, Hunter Brucks and Chris Campbell were prepared to present information about their proposed amphitheater during the August 1 Waterville Planning Commission meeting. Their application for a conditional use permit for 27 acres on South Pray Boulevard was deferred until a larger venue can be secured for a meeting. MIRROR PHOTO BY KAREN GERHARDINGER

BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — “Good things come to those who wait,” said Hunter Brucks, as he watched dozens of Waterville residents exit the Planning Commission meeting on August 1.

Brucks, a musician and concert venue developer and manager, drove from Maybee, Mich., to join business partners John Henry and Chris Campbell in presenting plans for a 7,500-seat capacity amphitheater near the US 24/SR 64 interchange.

Public interest has grown since the amphitheater was first announced on July 7, with comments on social media and in public meetings centering on sound, lights, traffic and other impacts.

“We’re prepared. We’re ready,” Brucks said, explaining that the Planning Commission would have reviewed completed traffic and sound studies as well as renderings for the open-air venue.

Before the 7:00 p.m. meeting start time, the council chambers were filled, exceeding the 48-person capacity recommended by the fire department. The Planning Commission members, including Dennis Birkemeier, Will Burns, Dave Kerscher, Doug Parrish and John Wasserman, agreed to table the application until a larger venue could be secured.

“It would be better if we had more room,” administrator Jon Gochenour said. “We’re not trying to put anything over on anyone.” 

For members of the audience, the delay seemed avoidable. Lisa Habertsock, who had been one of a dozen residents asking questions during the July 28 Waterville City Council meeting, called the city earlier in the day to ask if the venue had been moved. Dave Beakas said staff knew a crowd would be expected and arrangements should have been made to hold the meeting at the school.

“I knew this would happen,” said Steven Timms, an Overlook Drive resident. “If the city can’t plan for a meeting, how can they plan for an amphitheater?”

While some audience members already have an opinion about the proposal, Sara Bowen, a Noward Road resident, came to learn more, especially hours of operation and sound.

“Noise travels in this flat land,” she said. “I can hear the Anthony Wayne band playing.”

Campbell has read every comment on social media in the past few weeks and welcomes the opportunity to clarify some misunderstandings and explain his vision for what he calls a “world-class venue.”

Both Campbell and Henry are Waterville natives and 1982 Anthony Wayne graduates. Campbell recalls the public outcry about rerouting US 24 – a process that took nearly 50 years and polarized many in the community. Yet it has cut down on fatal accidents while at the same time creating a new area for development.

“The bypass changed Waterville,” Campbell said. 

The president and CEO of Devonshire REIT, Campbell purchased the 27 acres of property on South Pray Boulevard without any specific plans. One of the possibilities was warehouses that would have brought semis from US 24 at all hours of the day and night, he said. When he heard the proposal from Henry and Brucks, Campbell saw it as an opportunity to bring something positive to his hometown. He even checked with his 87-year-old mom to get her input.

“I own the land and I’m putting my name on it,” Campbell said. “I’m going to make sure it’s built beautifully.”

The land is zoned C-4 and an amphitheater is permitted with a conditional use permit. If the Planning Commission meets and renders a decision before the Monday, August 22 city council meeting, council will hold its first reading on the matter that night. Two more readings would be held on Mondays, Sept-ember 12 and 26, with a public hearing on Sept-ember 26. While the Planning Commission will make recommendations based on information presented, it is ultimately council that has a final say.

Plans for the rescheduled Planning Commission meeting will be announced at www.waterville.org and on electronic signs.

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