South Lincoln and High street residents tried one last time to stop an overlay district from coming to their neighborhoods — and bringing a 596-bed student apartment complex with it.
Residents packed Kent City Council chambers Wednesday night and pleaded with council members to reject a proposed overlay district that would rezone about 10 acres of land east of South Lincoln Street and just south of Summit Street.
Council members unanimously approved the overlay district, which paves the way for Edwards Communities Development Co. to build the complex.
Dave Tyndall, vice president of engineering for Edwards Communities, said they plan to start demolition and break ground immediately after they finish buying all the properties needed for the project.
"We hope to start in July," Tyndall said. "Our plan is to finish for occupancy in about one year. We're looking forward to the project."
Residents of the surrounding neighborhoods are not.
Neighbors of the forthcoming apartment complex packed council chambers — as they have several times while the project was discussed in the past nine months — to express the same concerns with anticipated increases in car and foot traffic and expected decreases in property values.
This time, the big concern expressed was that many residents felt council members were ignoring the 88 people who signed a petition opposing the overlay district.
"It’s indescribable how disappointed I feel," High Street resident Joyce Harris said. "I was naïve enough in the beginning to think that voicing my concerns would actually make a difference. Now I think everything that I’ve said and everything that my neighbors have said has meant nothing” to council.
Residents criticized council for bypassing Kent's regulations for zoning code review, and they called the overlay district "spot zoning."
Larry Andrews gave an impassioned plea before the council vote urging them to heed the residents' voices and "quite simply, to save our neighborhood."
Council members responded to the allegations of ignoring the residents during Wednesday night's open comment period, which came at the end of the meeting after most of the concerned residents left.
"I‘ll be the first to lay down in front of the bulldozers if this company does not live up to its agreements," Ward 5 Councilwoman Heidi Shaffer said. "I’m saddened that people feel that we haven’t listened to them. Listening doesn’t necessarily mean that we decide to go along with what they want."
Councilman John Kuhar said the Edwards Communities project is a better, more thought out project than a similar complex being planned for the existing Sunrise Apartments property on Rhodes Road.
"All I ever dream about is people showing up at council and speaking their peace," he said. "And when they do do that, and you can’t in good conscience agree with them, it’s hard."
At-large councilman Robin Turner said the decision was the best council could make, and now they must stay involved to ensure the new apartment complex does not become a detriment to the neighborhood.
"There are things we have to do now to reach out to that community and let them know we’re concerned about their future," Turner said. "That’s working with the Edwards company, that’s working with the people who live there."
The process that culminated with Wednesday night's approval of the overlay district came about nine months after Edwards Communities initially asked the city to rezone the project site to University District — a much less strict portion of city zoning code with no density cap for residential complexes.
Residents adamantly opposed the University District zoning request, and Edwards Communities came back with a request to change the project site from R-3 zoning to a more dense R-4 zoning. Again, residents spoke out against the higher density, and the developer asked for a delay to review the issue.
The company came back with a request for an overlay district to create a compromise between the R-3 and R-4 zoning, which again was opposed by residents. Then, in early April the Kent Planning Commission approved a modified version of the proposed overlay district.
All this took place through more than a half dozen public meetings that included testimony from Peter Edwards, chairman of the development company, members of Kent city staff talking about traffic and other city service demand increases, and dozens of residents.
Kent attorney Dave Williams, representing Edwards Communities, defended council members for having taken the time and thoughtfully considered the issue.
"You hear spot zoning," Williams said. "You hear that you’re rushing to judgment on zoning matters … and that the concerns of the citizens are not being heard. I don’t think anything could be farther from the truth."
He said city staff members, council representatives and members of Kent's other boards and commissions have been reviewing the city's zoning code for the past 10 years. He pointed to changes and improvements made to the code in the past few years as proof. And he said both the developer and city officials responded to residents' voices by changing their zoning proposals for the project.
"People have had nine months of public hearings to talk," he said.
Still, residents felt the apartment complex is not a good fit for the neighborhood.
"We are not a neighborhood who’s against development," Cassandra Pegg-Kirby said. "We’re a neighborhood against rash decision making based on an apparent need that has not been backed up or conveyed.
"If we are the sacrificial lamb you’re willing to turn into a college ghetto, then tell it what it is," she said. "Put the housing here and you will see people leave and take their tax money to a community that is willing to support them."
In one final attempt to appease residents, council members voted Wednesday to potentially force multi-family apartment complex owners to have on-site security staff. Council agreed to put the idea of mandating on-site security on their to-do list and discuss it at a future council meeting.
"I think this would also alleviate a lot of residents concerns about things getting out of hand,” Councilwoman Tracy Wallach said.