The last of two official hurdles for the University Oaks student apartment complex on Horning Road have been cleared.
The Kent Planning Commission voted 3-1 Tuesday night to approve the site plan and grant rooming and boarding house status for the 520-bedroom complex. The planning commission vote follows approval of a parking variance for the project granted Monday by the Kent Board of Zoning Appeals.
The planning commission approved the rooming house status, which allows more than two unrelated tenants to live in the three-bedroom units, subject to the condition that there be no more than a 1-to-1 ratio of tenants to bedrooms throughout the complex. It was the same condition the zoning board attached to its parking variance for the project on Monday night.
The site plan also approved by the commission includes two off-site parking lots on Horning Road. One parking lot is adjacent to the 12-acre complex and the second lot is across the street. Combined, both lots will add 155 spaces to give the complex a total 540 parking spaces.
Anderson Neighbors, the chief operating officer of Alabama-based Capstone Real Estate Investments, which owns the complex, said as part of the rooming house status request the developer offered to limit the one-bedroom apartments to only one tenant each if the status was granted — thus the 1-to-1 ratio condition.
Without that provision, city code would allow up to two unrelated people in the one-bedroom apartments.
But planning commission member Melissa Long questioned how the city would track whether or not Capstone is keeping its promise to only rent the one-bedroom units to a single tenant.
"We can say that, and then where is the enforcement," she asked.
Kent City Councilwoman Tracy Wallach raised the same question, and added she fears Capstone will put as many tenants as it can fit into a unit.
"The city has very few tools to find out if that’s happening or not," Wallach said. "The zoning that was there was known when the company bought the facility, so they knew full well what the regulations were with the property."
Neighbors has said in the past the rooming house status is critical to the property's success in order to be able to rent all three bedrooms in the three bedroom units to unrelated people. That way, no bedroom would go empty.
"We are leasing by the person," he said. "We obviously will comply with the law. If anyone has any question to that, I would welcome the questioning. I don’t know what else I can do to assure you of that."
Kent attorney John Flynn, who represented Capstone, said the developer is not trying to overload the complex.
"With 520 bedrooms, that’s 520 people," Flynn said. "We’re not trying to overload any apartment. You’re going to have 520, at most, tenants."
Eric Fink, Kent's assistant law director, said the city can always request copies of the leases to confirm the number of tenants.
"As Ms. Wallach brought up before, there are times when it’s hard to determine if they’re packing six people into three bedrooms," Fink said. "However, that’s more of an issue with individual houses than it is in this situation."
Planning commission member John Gargan said Capstone should get credit for even asking for the rooming house designation.
"That is the most flagrantly violated section of our zoning code," he said.
With Tuesday's site plan approval, Capstone is clear to start construction on the parking lots in order to start renting to students in time for the fall 2012 semester at nearby Kent State University.
It will have taken slightly more than one year since the eviction process started in July 2011 to remove the seniors who lived at Silver Oaks Place in order to turn the complex into student apartments.
Neighbors said Capstone has already pre-leased 82 percent of the bedrooms at the complex for the fall.
"And we would expect we’ll lease all of them," he said.