Whether or not a proposed project in Kent has enough parking seems to be the key question as of late for the city's planning boards.
The Kent Board of Zoning Appeals listened to a parking variance request from the company turning the former Silver Oaks Place apartments into the "University Oaks" student apartments this week, but ultimately the firm asked the board to table their vote on the issue until next month after zoning board members expressed concerns over their parking proposal.
Capstone Real Estate Investments initially wanted a variance from the board so that off-site parking for the apartments could be 820 feet from the property line, whereas the zoning code doesn't allow off-site parking to be more than 700 feet away.
That variance was based on the distance between the apartment complex and the Music and Speech Building parking lot on the campus of Kent State University, which officials there had indicated could be used for parking at the complex.
Anderson Neighbors, chief operating officer at Capstone Real Estate Investments, said about 80 percent of the tenants who have signed leases for the fall need a parking space at the complex.
"The university has acknowledged that tenants of University Oaks would qualify for a commuter pass and can park overnight" in the music building lot, Neighbors said.
Capstone is planning for 376 on-site parking spaces by the time renovations are finished at the former retirement complex. But the Alabama developer also is asking the city to change the apartment complex's housing status from single-family to a rooming and boarding house designation. Such a change would allow the developer to rent each individual bedroom — there are 520 total — to separate, unrelated students.
Such a change also would require the developer to meet a parking ratio of 1.25 parking spaces for every one resident.
Neighbors said they've determined there's enough room for 51 extra parking spaces — for 376 total — at the Horning Road complex, but Capstone also plans to buy land adjacent to the complex and across the street from the apartments to build another 151 parking spaces.
Nancy Rice, whose family owns property caddy-corner across the street from University Oaks, confirmed Capstone is buying their land. The other seller is unknown.
"If you add those 51 spaces to the 151 spaces we feel we can put on the two parcels we intend to purchase, that brings you to 201 additional spaces, which brings the parking ratio to an excess of 1 to 1," Neighbors said. "It does not meet the 1.25 requirement, but from a practical standpoint, considering the fact that 80 percent, and that is the percentage, will have a car, there is ample parking when you consider there is additional parking to what we proposed."
Neighbors said one of the two properties they plan to buy is already under contract and the other landowner should be under contract to sell within the week.
Kent zoning board chairperson Elizabeth Howard, a professor at Kent State, said at Monday's meeting she was concerned about the firm's reliance on the university commuter lot for parking.
Howard said she talked with the university's parking manager and learned only commuter students who are juniors or seniors and have taken 60 or more credit hours can buy a permit for that lot.
"That particular parking lot is a high use parking lot by non students in the evening because it’s adjacent to music and speech" where numerous performances are held throughout the year, she said.
Capstone and Kent State have no formal agreement for tenants to use the space. A letter from Gregg Floyd, a senior vice president at the university, to the zoning board simply stated "As with all commuter students attending Kent State University, the student residents at University Oaks Apartments will be able to purchase a commuter parking permit."
"Given all that information I would personally have to say no to this request because I don’t think it’s reasonable without an explicit agreement between Kent State University and University Oaks," Howard said.
Zoning board member Dave Mail suggested Capstone change its variance request for a variance from the total parking requirement rather than the off-site parking variance, which indicates a reliance on Kent State parking spaces.
"That’s very different than this request, which basically says ‘We talked to the university and they said bring them over,'" Mail said. He added that parking for the complex was adequate when it was the retirement complex for single-family units.
"Basically you’re going from family housing to student housing where the density of unrelated persons is greater," Mail said.
Neighbors asked for the board to table it's vote Monday. He plans to return to the zoning board on June 18 to ask for a modified variance request. The modified request will likely include the 201 spaces Capstone plans to build off-site.
"I think when you consider fewer than all, in fact 80 percent of our tenants for next year, will have a car, because many of them are international students that don’t have a car, there is ample parking for guests and staff," Neighbors said. "We still have excess spaces."