A motorcycle club well known in Portage County for its annual toy runs has purchased a dilipidated home at 325 W. Elm St. for use as a philanthropic institution/meeting house – but variances are needed before the club can officially call it home.
Born Free M.C. Toy Run Inc. has applied for two variances allowing a philanthropic institution to be located on a local street instead of a major thoroughfare or at the intersection of a major thoroughfare, and a variance from the 100-foot setback requirement for philanthropic institution structures.
A public hearing on the variance requests will be conducted at 7 p.m. April 16 by the Board of Zoning Appeals. The Planning Commission will conduct a separate hearing at 7 p.m. April 17 to review the club's site plan and consider its request for a conditional zoning certificate.
Jennifer Barone, Kent planning engineer, wrote in a staff report that philanthropic institutions are conditionally permitted in R-3 high density residential zoning districts, which is what West Elm Street is zoned.
Barone reported that the club bought the single-family house for use as a philanthropic institution and meeting place. Many repairs have already been made, she said, and further improvements are planned.
The club of about 15 members holds meetings at 7 p.m. every other Friday that last between 1 and 1 1/2 hours, followed by socialization, Barone wrote. Previously the meetings were held at members' homes.
The club plans to use the existing driveway, which can accommodate four cars, and on-street parking, which is permitted on the north side of West Elm. Barone noted that members also car pool to their meetings.
"Staff has concerns about the parking, meeting times and potential noise and would like to hear the comments presented in the public hearing before offering a recommendation," Barone said in the report.
Michael Harris, president and trustee, explained in the club's Jan. 25 application to the city that Born Free Motorcycle Club was founded in Kent in 1968 "by a group of guys who were friends and enjoyed riding motorcycles together."
In 1987 the club did its first toy run in Portage County along with the Blue Knights, a law enforcement motorcycle club, with proceeds going to Kent Social Services.
"Since 1987 to present the Portage County Sheriff and various police departments throughout Portage County have worked with (us) in escorting and helping to make (the toy run) a safe event. Over the years we have donated to several community food banks, agencies and individual families in need," Harris wrote.
In 1992 the club was incorporated as Born Free M.C. Toy Run, a non-profit 501 (c3) organization.
Harris said that when Born Free purchased the 1,182-square-foot home on West Elm, it was in need of many repairs. Club members have since fixed broken windows, installed a new roof and remodeled the first floor. Harris said the club plans to install new siding "for more curb appeal."
"On occasion when we are remodeling and other work details, we do host a small quiet cook out to which the neighbors are invited to attend if they choose," Harris wrote.
No Born Free members could be reached for comment.