If you've read the headlines lately, you know Kent is grappling with an abundance of student housing apartments and how they'll fit into the city's neighborhoods and housing market.
That same abundance begs the question: does the city have a plan for all this new student housing or housing in general?
It turns out the answer to that question is both "yes" and "no."
City and university officials have ruminated over housing, both student and otherwise, for the past few years.
But those ruminations have amounted to little more than informal discussions that, I imagine, more or less end with a blanket statement such as "We need a plan for the direction of housing in Kent."
Meanwhile, those general discussions were taking place and private developers salivated as they watched Kent State demolish dorms like the Small Group and housing at the Allerton Apartments. They didn't all just salivate — some bought land, submitted plans and started construction.
Here we are, it's 2012, and three different student apartment complexes expect to add a total 1,728 new student housing beds by the start of the fall semester. And those are just the beds under construction now, which are: University Oaks, proposed 520; The Province at Kent, 596; and University Edge, 612.
That figure excludes the close to 400 student beds planned by the Kent Presbyterian Church and several hundred proposed near Dix Stadium in Franklin Township. Plus, a developer is sizing up the former DuBois Book Store property on South Lincoln Street for more apartments though no plans have been presented to the city yet. Tally those in and the figure could exceed 2,500 new beds within a few short years.
That figure also excludes the several hundred student beds at Campus Pointe, which opened just a few years ago in Franklin Township.
All this construction and the seemingly endless stream of proposals is prompting a stronger reaction from city and university officials.
Kent City Manager Dave Ruller conceded that developing a specific plan for housing in Kent, both student and non-student alike, has hit a few bumps.
Those obstacles came in the form of downtown Kent's $100 million redevelopment and all the demands it places on city staff, and the fact the city's foremost authority on housing, Kent Community Development Department Director Gary Locke, was on an extended leave of absence for health reasons this past year. Still, the city maintained those informal discussions monthly.
"Honestly it's gotten derailed a couple times now because we've got so much going on," Ruller said.
But now that train is back on the rails, and the city is hopeful to do some long-term planning for community housing and neighborhoods similar to both the 2004 Bicentennial Plan and the planning for downtown's renaissance.
As in earlier processes, that concept involves identifying stakeholders, choosing areas of the city to study and hiring some outside urban planning consultants. Ruller told Ohio.com they at least plan to bring in a consultant to study the area around the Esplanade extension this summer.
"We are trying to do basically a lot like we did with the downtown project, where we kind of took some of the concepts that emerged from the Bicentennial Plan and then sort of take them to the next level to give them a shot at being completed in the real world, instead of just in the plan itself," Ruller said.
That process involves identifying the strengths and weaknesses of Kent's existing housing, where the city has deficiencies in housing and what opportunities remain for residential development or restoration.
"Our goal here is to really get our arms around housing in general in Kent," Ruller said. "Really cultivate a larger vision, strategic vision, of where we want to take this thing. We had a strong strategic vision for the kind of downtown we wanted. We went through that process and it turned out very well, so we're going to try to repeat that."
The university has offered to lend whatever support it can to the planning and study efforts, but the city will lead the analysis.
Kent State spokesperson Emily Vincent said the university has not conducted its own housing study but realized, through talks with city leaders, that there's a larger planning process that needs to happen.
"We are part of this and we're at the table," she said. "We will lend whatever support we can."
So while there is no specific plan there is an impetus, and a realization, that Kent needs to develop some kind of plan for housing. We will see whether that develops into mere guidelines or strict rules for developers to follow.
The whole issue conjurs, in my mind anyway, the clichéd image of the old saying "putting the cart before the horse." Only in this version I find myself wondering if the horse hasn't already bolted out of the barn and we're just now running after it, lugging the cart behind us.