Ten years ago, the city
of Kent compiled a comprehensive plan for development, dubbed the Bicentennial Plan in honor of the city's upcoming 200th birthday, that provided a blueprint for planned growth based on the principles of sustainability.
The plan wasn't without its critics, but much of what it outlined came to pass, especially with regard to the revitalization of the downtown area and efforts to foster a physical link between the Kent State University campus and the central city. Other aspects of the plan remain unrealized, but having it on the books has served the city well as a guide for development.
Kent has changed a great deal since 2004. It is time for the city to take another look at its comprehensive plan, using the Bicentennial Plan as a basis for possible revisions, to focus on future development.
The plan adopted a decade ago included three "special planning areas" in addition to community-wide goals. The most controversial, the Campus Link area, eventually materialized as KSU's Esplanade, which has proven to be a great addition to the city. The other two areas centered on the West Main Street commercial strip and the S.R. 261-S.R. 43 intersection.
The West Main area and the S.R. 261-S.R. 43 area hold the potential for significant development in the future, and a revised comprehensive plan could provide guidance for their future.
Despite the presence of many thriving auto dealerships, which provide jobs and tax revenue, West Main Street includes many vacant commercial sites and has a hodge-podge look that makes it a less than appealing approach to the city. The same could be said about the East Main Street commercial strip, although its proximity to KSU tends to lessen the number of vacancies that arise. Is commercial development the best use for these areas or could alternatives be considered? A look at their future is in order.
The S.R. 261-S.R. 43 intersection, proposed as the site of a shopping mall a generation ago, remains in flux. Development there is helter-skelter, with a mix of retail that includes a largely vacant, relatively new shopping plaza; the mall site remains undeveloped. The area's relative closeness to the I-76 intersection in Brimfield could make it a likely location for development. The Kent Bog, an environmental treasure located near the would-be mall site, adds another important concern tempering any growth there.
Kent once was a hub for industry, providing employment for hundreds of workers well into the 1970s. Most of those jobs are gone, but the areas where the factories were located remain. Future development of the Lake Street, Mogadore Road and Stow Street areas where industry once flourished ought to be addressed.
The closing of one of the Kent City Schools' elementaries -- Franklin, which is located outside the Kent city limits -- as well as the revelation that the city's public schools have seen a 25 percent decrease in enrollment in the past two decades is a sign that its residential needs may be changing. Many neighborhoods that came into being in the aftermath of World War II are showing their age. The residential component of managed growth deserves another look.
The Bicentennial Plan was the result of more than two years of discussion that included neighborhood meetings, input from city officials and a commitment on the part of City Council to sign on as partners in sustainable growth. It took a great deal of work, but the end result proved to be rewarding. It's time to take another look at a comprehensive plan to provide direction as Kent continues to grow.
Kent can also be used as a model for other communities wishing to revitalize. Developing a comprehensive plan is definitely a start. Council members need to be a bridge to the future and not a dead end to the establishment and execution of the plan. Also, I don't believe Kent could not have realized their plan without the support of the voice of the business community, especially the visions of Ron Burbick.