When Warren County commissioners approved rezoning 20 acres for a proposed arts community, they also ended a zoning violation case.
On Tuesday, commissioners approved rezoning of Theatre 42 property at 2752 U.S. 42 in Union Twp. for a planned development by Ramesh Malhotra, an entrepreneur also involved in redevelopment of two sites in Franklin as centers for spirituality and the arts.
“I’m neither an artist or a singer or an actor. I try to help the artist,” Malhotra said in a telephone interview after the rezoning.
Malhotra described himself as a “spiritual capitalist.”
The arts community plan was developed after the property was cited for a code violation after property was changed from the Living Tree Community Church to a theater used by the Mason Community Players, Zoning Inspector Mike Yetter said Tuesday.
Churches are permitted in residentially zoned areas, but not community theaters.
Malhotra is planning to open Ever One Performing Art Theaters in a developing corridor on U.S. 42 between Mason and Lebanon.
He already has the Malhotra Collection of Spiritual Art on display at a museum developed in an old home along the Great Miami River and multi-use trail at 318 River St. in Franklin. Malhotra said he has begun opening the museum on Wednesdays and Thursdays, as well as on weekends, for visitors from around the world and as interest grows.
Before working on the theater plan, Malhotra said he plans to convert the former St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Franklin to the Oneness Harmony Center. Malhotra plans to seek donations and fees for musical and spoken-word presentations “to raise the individual spirit through meditation.”
The Harmony Center is expected to open in August in time to capitalize on visitors in Franklin for Downtown Saturday Nite, a local auto show held for more than 30 years. Malhotra looks for some of the show’s audience to also stop by the art museum.
In September or October, work is to begin on remodeling of the old Theatre 42 building, where the Mason Community Players (MCP) have been staging shows since 2015, before Malhotra took over a land contract for the property from Mason Mayor Victor Kidd.
“We are a part of the plan with the owner of the property,” Laureen Catlin, an MCP board member, said via email.
Their production of The Wiz is to open on July 14, and the group is soliciting donations to help make rent and subsidize improvements to the building.
“When you lease a space, there are rent and utilities to be paid,” the group said on its website. “And MCP tries to improve Theatre 42 as much as possible in order to make it more and more comfortable and accommodating to its performers, technicians and staff, and most importantly, for its audiences.”
Malhotra also plans to build a second building in anticipation of another group, such as a children’s theater group, moving to the center.
Ultimately, plans show as many as six buildings, including a 27,900 square foot theater, on the property, which lacks sewers and much of which is in a flood plain.
“We appreciate your vision,” Commissioner Dave Young said before the unanimous vote to rezone the property from residential use to allow the planned-unit development in a neighborhood commercial business zone.
The land is owned Evan Ford but is under a land contract previously held by Kidd and the church and taken on by Malhotra, property records show.
At the meeting, Malhotra, based in Mason, said he would lease the buildings to groups and planned to open a music school in the existing building. He said the zoning violation complaint was made after the property passed from Kidd to him in 2016, although the theater had been operating in the former church building since 2015.
Commissioner Tom Grossmann quizzed Malhotra about the property’s ownership.
Grossmann lives in Mason and served on the city council and as mayor before his election as a county commissioner.
“I think it’s a great use,” he said. “I sure hope it works.”
Malhotra, a coal broker and head of the Malhotra Group, based in Mason, said the projects fit his model for developing charitable businesses.
“I was given a gift to build businesses,” he said. “I have made enough money. I don’t really need more.”
Kidd said he sold the contract to Malhotra when his church mission changed and they no longer needed the property.
The development plan for the arts community still has to be reviewed by the commissioners.
“You’ll get to see it again,” Yetter said. “Ultimately, the commissioners will have the final say.”
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