The effort to save the 1858 Kent Wells Sherman House from a wrecking ball cleared several zoning hurdles Monday, but must negotiate more governmental hurdles tonight and Wednesday to stave off an Aug. 4 demolition deadline.
Kent’s Board of Zoning Appeals on Monday unanimously approved three variances requested by the non-profit group Kent Sherman Wells House Inc. to relocate the Greek Revival-style home from its present East Erie Street site to a vacant lot at 247 N. Water St.
The volunteer group working to save the house with ties to the Kent family and other prominent citizens chose the 247 N. Water St. lot – sandwiched between Standing Rock Cultural Arts and Scribbles Coffee Co. – from among more than a dozen possible sites.
The variances granted Monday by the zoning appeals board will:
- Allow the proposed relocated building to have a 15-foot setback from its front property line, the sidewalk, instead of zero setback as called for in Kent’s commercial-downtown zoning district. This move had already been recommended by the Architectural Review Board to improve the building’s street presence and maintain its historic nature. According to a city staff report, adjacent landowners also requested the setback to maintain exposure of a window and sign at Standing Rock gallery and Cherokee artist Edwin George’s mural, “Love,” on the Scribbles building.
- Allow the historic building to occupy only 48 percent of the lot’s street frontage as opposed to the 70 percent required by city code. The North Water Street parcel is 50 feet wide and the former house, which is just over 24 feet wide, will be centered on it. A site plan is attached to this article in .pdf form.
- Allow the non-profit group to erect a free-standing sign in the front yard area instead of mounting one on the building itself, as required by code. The sign design will need approval by the Architectural Review Board prior to installation.
Appeals board member Steve Balazs, owner of the Scribbles Coffee building, said he’s grateful the vacant lot is being bought for a small project with a 15-foot setback because it allows for a view of the Edwin George mural “that has become an icon in our community.”
Balazs pointed out that the long-vacant lot could have been sold to someone who, by code, could build a new structure right up to the front and side property lines. “It’s kind of a blessing in disguise, getting a smaller building on this footprint,” he said.
Member Diane Werner said the board is usually asked to grant variances for buildings too large for their proposed lots, and that this was the first request she had ever seen for a project “too small” for the lot.
“It could be a much worse outcome for surrounding businesses,” Werner said. “I think everybody wins in this situation.”
Opponents of the relocation do not want SRCA to lose the neighboring vacant lot it has used for years for a variety of projects and events. Jeff Ingram, Standing Rock executive director, told the appeals board that granting the variances would adversely affect his business because the historic structure would block natural light coming into the gallery.
Board member Elizabeth Howard said that while she understands Ingram’s point, there will be nearly 13 feet of land remaining between the Kent Wells Sherman House and Standing Rock gallery, so the natural light will only be reduced, not eliminated.
“We’ve already lost, over time, too many historic buildings,” Howard said.
The Planning Commission will review the project’s site plan during a 7 p.m. meeting tonight at City Hall. On Wednesday, City Council will vote to amend an ordinance adopted June 20 that authorized a loan of up to $15,000 for the project to TransPortage Inc. The loan recipient’s name will be changed from TransPortage to Kent Wells Sherman House Inc.
Roger Thurman, vice president of the non-profit, said the group is anxious to finalize its purchase agreement for the lot, sign off on paperwork with the city and university, set a house-moving date and construct a new foundation on the North Water lot.
This all needs to occur before Aug. 4, the deadline agreed upon by the city and university to have the former homes on East Erie Street demolished.
“It’s a very tight time schedule so it’s very important to make this happen. To not make it happen, for the procedures to be derailed, would mean the destruction of this … very important historical structure,” Thurman said.