By Kyle McDonald | Staff Writer
The fate of the Kent Wells Sherman House remains in the air as a citizens group seeks to overturn Kent Planning Commission’s site plan approval for its new home at 247 N. Water St. The group wants to preserve the space as the community green space it was used as for 20 years by Standing Rock Cultural Arts. Meanwhile, the Dec. 1 deadline to move the house from the temporary location on College Avenue owned by Kent State University is quickly approaching.
A hearing is scheduled for Nov. 20 to determine if an injunction will be placed on Kent Wells Sherman House, Inc., the organization fighting to save the house, preventing any development of the North Water Street site until a final decision is reached. Until then, a temporary restraining order bars them from removing plants, excavating, placing the house on the site or any other act that would alter the site.
The Kent Wells Sherman House dates to 1858 and holds ties to prominent figures in Kent’s past. It was originally the home of Frances Kent Wells, a daughter of Zenas Kent, the community’s founding father. Its historic prominence was not realized until March when it was slated to be demolished for the Kent State University Esplanade extension after being used as a boarding house for 40 years.
The Standing Rock supporters have actively campaigned and organized to find an alternative site and stop the house from moving onto the green space, which has long been in use, but not owned, by Standing Rock. The Wells Sherman House group has since purchased the lot. The sale was finalized in October.
“We believe the planning commission made mistakes in the way the decision was made and what was considered in their decision,” said John Plough, the attorney representing the “Save the Standing Rock Garden” citizens group.
In July, the planning commission voted 3-2 against approving the Sherman House site plan for 247 N. Water St. Following that decision, an altered site plan setting the building 16 inches from the sidewalk instead of the original 15 feet was submitted to the Kent Architectural Review Board. The board then recommended the building sit between 12 and 15 feet from the sidewalk and passed a certificate of appropriateness allowing the planning commission to reconsider the plan, which it approved in a 3-2 vote.
“We feel it shouldn’t have been brought up again for another year because the zoning ordinance reads that you can only reapply one year after being turned down,” Plough said, citing chapter 1107.7 of Kent’s codified ordinances.
Plough said the citizens group is arguing that the architecture review board violated the Ohio Sunshine Law by not properly advertising the August meeting, and the opinion of the 400 residents openly opposing the move was not properly considered when Kent City Council approved a loan for the move.
Roger Thurman, chair of KWSH, Inc., said he doesn’t believe the case will hold up.
“From our point of view, the entire thing is frivolous and the city has done the correct procedures in terms of going ahead and letting us move the house,” he said.
Thurman said KWSH is not restricted from obtaining permits to develop the site, which it should have soon.
“It’s 95 percent through, with final little details being straightened out,” he said.
Thurman said property rights are being ignored by a group that doesn’t own the land.
“People want to maintain that land as it was, even though they never let anyone know that they cared and never made a move to secure it through normal procedural methods,” he said.
Even if the “Save the Standing Rock Garden” group is unsuccessful in preserving the space, member Lisa Regula Meyer said the group will hold a small victory in pointing out mistakes made in public meetings.
“We consider it a win if we at least get it pointed out in public record and discussion that maybe Kent City Council needs to be more careful about what they’re doing, who they’re doing things with, the process that they’re going through and be more considerate to all opinions,” she said, adding that the discourse has been disheartening. “Whatever happens, we’re still Kent and we still need to be able to work together and respect everybody’s differences of opinion.”
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