Three of five Kent Planning Commission members chose green-space preservation over saving a Civil War-era home from possible demolition by rejecting plans Tuesday for relocating the Kent Wells Sherman House to a vacant North Water Street parcel.
Commission members Anthony Catalano, John Gargan Jr. and Peter Paino voted against approving a site plan for the non-profit Kent Wells Sherman House Inc., a group formed in March to save the historic structure found to have ties to the Kent family and other prominent citizens.
Voting in favor of the site plan were commission members Gregory Balbierz and Melissa Long.
The house relocation from East Erie Street is necessary for construction of The Esplanade extension, a Kent State University led project designed to create a pedestrian link between campus and downtown Kent.
After months of research the volunteer group chose a vacant parcel at 247 N. Water St., adjacent to Standing Rock Cultural Arts and Scribbles Coffee Co.’s parking lot, from among more than a dozen possible sites for the Greek Revival style house.
Soon after announcing their choice, supporters of Standing Rock and its North Water Street Gallery began voicing opposition to the relocation plan. For nearly 20 years Standing Rock has used and tended the lot – with the landowner’s permission – for a wide variety of arts and nature programs and events and as community garden space.
Relocation opponents launched an online petition drive in late June urging Kent City Council members to help save the green space. On Tuesday, Beth Goran presented commission members with a hardcopy of the petition bearing 315 signatures.
Catalano, commission chairman, said he considered the petition when deciding to vote against the site plan. “We have to weigh what we’re gaining against what we’re losing,” he said.
Gargan said he viewed the North Water Street site choice “as a marriage of convenience” that would eliminate a unique green space in a neighborhood that has an industrial feel. “I really think we’re losing something,” he said.
No other reasons were publicly stated for turning down the project – one that city planning staff members had recommended approving.
On Monday, Kent’s Board of Zoning Appeals unanimously approved three variances that would have allowed the historic structure to be moved onto the North Water parcel. The group had secured a purchase agreement for the property and lined up funding to move the house and build a new foundation for it.
During Tuesday's meeting, seven “Save the Standing Rock Garden!” proponents spoke in opposition to the house relocation and three members of SRCA’s The New World Children's Theater group presented a short skit expressing their feelings about possibly losing the garden.
Caroline Arnold called the parcel “a little oasis of green space” downtown, while Elaine Hullihen described it as “an incredible asset to the community that has added dramatically to the quality of life in Kent.”
Josh Goran said he believes it would be foolish to destroy public green space in order to save a house and that the small parcel, as it stands, “has developed its own dynamic history.”
Roger Thurman, vice president of the Kent Wells Sherman House Inc. board, urged the commission to help save the last surviving full two-story Greek Revival house in Kent. There are other Greek Revivals in the city, but they’re one-and-a-half stories, he explained.
“We have no time to dillydally around moving this (house). We need to get this done,” Thurman said, referring to the Aug. 4 deadline agreed upon by the city and university to have the former homes on East Erie Street demolished.
Thurman said via email late Tuesday night that “there are options” and that the board will meet at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday to “clarify which (option) to take.”
Jeff Ingram, SRCA director, said he has already spoken with the owner of 247 N. Water about Standing Rock buying the land should the house relocation project fall through. Ingram said funds are available for the purchase and that SRCA would work with a landscape architect to design a kids’ play area and urban garden.
Once a decision has been made by the planning commission, the case is closed for the commission and there is no provision to reopen it. Commission decisions can be appealed to the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals.