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Around 50 to 60 area residents attended Tuesday's Kent Planning Commission meeting, and many of them were there to speak against a proposal to build a three-unit commercial plaza at 1005 E. Main Street.
Although several residents said the plaza would include Starbucks and Verizon stores, Kent Development Engineer Jennifer Barone said the developers haven't told the city what businesses would move into the plaza.
Many residents spoke in opposition to the plan, which they fear would increase danger to pedestrians due to traffic congestion, ruin the character of the neighborhood and reduce property values.
Kent Investors Inc. Special Projects Director Gary Onesti said the firm is sensitive to some of the neighbors' concerns and decided to design the project without seeking any variances from the required zoning code.
"We've tried to work through the Kent zoning code so we understand it properly," he said. "We've taken a look at trying to preserve some of the existing trees, which is why we have had Davey Tree involved since January."
As of press time, the commission had not voted on the proposal, but member Peter Paino said more effort should be made to preserve as many as possible of the nine old growth trees on the property.
"They're part of the past, present and future of the neighborhood," he said. "Just tearing them down doesn't seem in keeping with what we in Kent would like to see happen."
Paino said he takes issue with the plan to include 57 parking spots in the 2-acre development, when only 48 are required by the city, according to Community Development Director Bridget Susel.
Space saved by including just 48 spots could be used to try to save the trees, he said.
Onesti said the possible tenants require 57 parking spots.
"We need those additional parking spaces," he said.
Janet Sessions, a neighborhood resident, said she's concerned the plaza, which could include a drive through window, would create unsafe conditions for pedestrians who don't have the benefit of a sidewalk in some areas near the site.
"I often walked to school," she said. "I still do walk frequently in this area. I hope that you will see the light and consider what is happening to this neighborhood if this goes through."
Resident George Ackerman called the traffic congestion he fears would follow development of the plaza "a disaster waiting to happen."
Sheryl Weber, a resident of Elmwood Drive, said she's concerned the existing stormwater infrastructure would not be able to manage the extra runoff from the site.
"You take those century trees down, and no tree will be able to do do what they do for our environment," she said, advising the developers to scale down their plans so the trees can remain.