Kent landmark 'saved,' but still not on new site

By Thomas Gallick | Staff Writer Published:

Almost a year after a group of history buffs rediscovered the Kent Wells Sherman House, the future of the 170-year-old home with ties to Kent's founding family still remains hazy due to an ongoing legal fight.

Still, a group of preservationists who founded Kent Wells Sherman House, Inc. for the purpose of moving the 1850s Greek Revival-style structure in order to save it from demolition feel confident the house will be in its new home at 247 N. Water St. by spring.

Last year, Kent Wells Sherman House, Inc. purchased the vacant North Water Street property, which had been used by neighboring Standing Rock Cultural Arts as a garden and performance space for 20 years with permission from the previous owner, in order to relocate the house.

A group called "Save the Standing Rock Garden," created to stop the house's relocation to Water Street, is currently challenging a magistrate's earlier ruling that the city of Kent did not violate state law and its own guidelines when its Architectural Review Board and Planning Commission approved plans to move the house. The group filed its original appeal of the boards' decision in October, and is continuing the challenge despite having its preliminary injunctions against the city and the preservation group denied by a magistrate.

Roger Thurman, vice chairman of Kent Wells Sherman House, Inc., said he believes the initial court battle has proven his group and the city of Kent did nothing wrong during the process of finding a new location for the home, which originally was the home of Frances Kent Wells, the daughter of Zenas Kent.

"We basically prevailed in court," Thurman said. "The substance that has been presented in court has been very strongly in our favor."

The group has already moved the house once, with Kent State University's assistance, to a temporary home on KSU property at the dead end of College Avenue, where it sits today. The house was move there from Erie Street, its location since the 1920s, which has since been vacated by the city to make room for an extension of KSU's Esplanade walkway.

The two-story Greek Revival-style structure, which dates to the 1850s, originally was located on South Water Street and was moved from that site in the 1920s because of commercial development. It is among a handful of surviving 19th Century structures with direct ties to the Kent family.

Thurman said the group is waiting both on the court case to end, and for the city of Kent to issue a foundation permit for the house's proposed location on Water Street. He said the leadership of the group has not decided on whether they will go ahead with the process of moving the house if the permit is issued before the court case ends.

"Save the Standing Rock Garden" previously had a temporary restraining order against Kent Wells Sherman House, Inc., which prevented them from altering the Water Street site, but that order was rescinded after Magistrate Kent Graham ruled that the "Garden" group had no legal ownership claim on the land.

Contact this reporter at 330-298-1126 or tgallick@recordpub.com

The "Garden" group's appeal of Graham's initial decision claims the magistrate incorrectly ruled:

that the city of Kent followed its own zoning code by allowing the Kent Wells Sherman House to go before Planning Commission a second time after it was initially rejected.

that two members of the Architectural Review Board, who abstained from voting on the case due to conflicts of interest, were allowed to participate in discussions during a meeting.

that the city followed Ohio open meetings law although it did not publish notice of the Architectural Review Board meeting with a local newspaper.

that rebuttal testimony was not allowed after the defendants rested their case.

Thurman said his group is confident the law is on their side and excited about the prospect of moving the house before spring.

"We know we've done nothing wrong and we're doing a positive thing for the community at-large," Thurman said.

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