Student housing sprawl is not in Kent's interests

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Franklin Township is not the place for more high-density student housing. There is valid concern about impending saturation so we need to weigh the consequences and missed opportunity of this type of housing placement. If there is still room for more student housing, and I think a case could be made for additional improved student housing, then it should be within the city of Kent limits and within sight of or within an easy walking distance to the downtown.

The late architectural writer Jane Jacobs published "The Death and Life of Great American Cities" in 1961. Her work is a foundation for the modern "mixed use" concept of combining housing, offices, retail, entertainment, wide sidewalks and transit, creating vitality. This philosophy of diversity guides Kent's development plan. Higher density housing close to the city center supports this vision.

As the downtown Kent City Council representative, representing Ward 5's center city neighborhoods and growing business sector, I am protective of our rapidly urbanizing city center. Its success -- and that of our surrounding property values and quality of life -- depends on many people being downtown at different times of the day and night for many reasons. It is common sense that proximity to downtown increases the likelihood of shopping, recreation or just enjoying a pleasant walking or people-watching experience.

The proposed 420-bed student housing complex across from Dix Stadium appears to be simply sprawl, no matter how attractive the design. This location does nothing to enhance the sense of "place" for these young people, who may already feel disconnected from the community.

This development would also mean more cars clogging Summit Street, and more cars taking increasingly precious parking spaces downtown -- if the residents even venture in that direction. This "out of sight, out of mind" location on the marshy outskirts will reinforce the "suitcase" school we are trying to reverse with the Esplanade, the new shops and restaurants, and the music and festivals. Prior to the revitalization effort, surveys showed that many students simply went home on the weekends rather than working in Kent or enjoying the Kent vibe, and contributing to the local economy.

Besides detracting from the local economy, this development is also going to place more burden on City services, such as fire, EMS and police. While the Portage County Sheriff's Department will be technically responsible for calls, mutual support is the reality and the city's police will be likely to get there first. Kent police officers will have to stabilize situations until the sheriff arrives, taking manpower away from protecting Kent neighborhoods.

Development in the township on open land is cheaper and easier than redevelopment in the city. No wonder many cities large and small have sad and decaying centers. At the same time, this type of development encroaches on and despoils rural environments for both the people who chose this setting for their homes and the wildlife who require these rapidly disappearing habitats.

We have the best of both worlds with an increasingly vibrant city that has a healthy green belt around it. I applaud Franklin Township Zoning Commissioner Marilyn Sessions for voting against recommending the rezoning of this location. I hope the Franklin Township trustees will seek out the opinions of the City of Kent staff and residents and will weigh the costs to Franklin Township, to the nearby residents and environment, and to the City of Kent.

Please don't choose more sprawl. It works against all we are building -- and preserving --together.

Heidi L. Shaffer, Ward 5 representative, Kent City Council

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