STOW: Residents and business owners who live near a proposed entertainment district let Stow City Council know they’re nervous about what a designation will mean to property values, traffic and general neighborhood serenity.

After more than a dozen speakers outlined concerns, the council decided to take a step back Thursday night, table current legislation, and bring in a consultant on March 6 to better explain the city’s vision.

The footprint of the “Community Entertainment District” under consideration follows Darrow Road, encompassing 156 acres that include the City Center campus to the north and the Kent Road shopping area to the south.

The point of a CED status, which would have to be approved by the Ohio Department of Liquor Control, is getting access to 15 new and low-cost liquor licenses that would attract more restaurants, bistros and event centers to the commercial state Route 91 corridor.

Mayor Sara Kline emphasized that the “CED” designation has no effect on the city’s zoning laws.

“What’s allowed now will still be allowed. What’s prohibited now will still be prohibited,” she told the gathering.

Planning Director Rob Kurtz stressed that the zoning code prohibits bars throughout the entire CED, though most speakers Thursday continued to express concern about watering holes rising up along Route 91.

Opportunity knocks

Stow-Munroe Falls Library director Doug Dotterer said the library is excited about being included in such a district and would relish its role as an anchor in a new economic development effort.

“We welcome the kind of change and foot traffic an entertainment district would bring,” he said.

Resident Kristen Casale also lauded the idea, saying she often leaves the city for dining and other activities.

She noted that adjacent communities like Kent, Hudson and Cuyahoga Falls have all invested in new and thriving commercial centers.

But most other speakers saw problems ahead.

Not so fast

Those living next to the commercially zoned areas said they fear loud and rowdy liquor-holders that serve customers into early morning hours might replace the quiet offices that now close at 5 p.m.

Carole Cummings mourned the potential loss of green space, noting that most of the city-owned campus to the north is “lovely” with its sweeping lawns.

Dan Russo, owner of Tavern of Stow, said while he doesn’t fear competition from other restaurants, he worries about the kind of investor that cheap liquor licenses will attract. An entertainment district liquor license costs about $2,300. Traditional licenses cost closer to $20,000.

He said any plans for an entertainment district should build in “high barriers for entry” to “keep irresponsible dreamers out of the mix.”

More steps await

If the entertainment district is approved by the state, voters would be asked to weigh in on whether to allow liquor to be served in currently dry neighborhoods that are inside the district’s boundaries.

City Center, for instance, is a no-liquor zone, something that would have to change if the city hopes to lure restaurants to that property.

Typically only voters within a dry precinct vote on whether to allow liquor sales in their precinct. The entertainment district designation changes the rules, giving all city voters a say in the matter.

Resident William Proctor said he didn’t like the idea of the entire city having a say on the project since those who live next to the district are the ones who will be impacted.

Kurtz, however, said state law requires the citywide ballot issue.

More time for review

At the meeting’s conclusion, the council held off on legislation that would have sent a CED application to the liquor board. Instead, on March 6, the city will give a public presentation on its vision for the City Center campus.

Since Stow has no downtown, officials have talked for decades about turning the city-owned land into a central community attraction with shops, restaurants, housing and recreation.

Council members expressed hope that if residents have a better idea of what those City Center plans are, they’ll better understand the need for an entertainment district designation.

“This isn’t a race,” Councilman Matt Riehl said of the delay. “This is serious stuff.”

Paula Schleis can be reached at 330-996-3741 or pschleis@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/paulaschleis.