Canoe and kayak enthusiasts will soon have a place to park and launch onto the Cuyahoga River in Kent's River Bend neighborhood.
The Kent Planning Commission gave approval Tuesday to a plan from the Kent Parks and Recreation Department for building a 12-space parking lot at the existing park, which is located just south and west of the River Bend Boulevard bridge that spans the river.
Kent Parks and Recreation Director John Idone said the plan has obtained all the necessary local approvals, including this final conditional zoning certificate granted by the planning commission. The next step is to take the site plan to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources for approval. The state agency has awarded a $250,000 grant for the project and must sign off on the plan.
Idone said he is hopeful to see the project bid to contractors in April with construction finished by mid-July.
“Most likely (park users) are going to put in, and within a couple of minutes they’re going to be gone,” he said. “This will be an asset to the neighborhood and the city of Kent.”
The plan has seen opposition from adjacent property owners, including Jim and Diana Sumner. The couple, whose property is located across the river from the park, were represented by attorney Joseph Spoonster at Tuesday's commission meeting.
Spoonster argued that the parks department is not looking to build a park and instead is planning a boat launch, which he said is not considered a permissable use in the neighborhood under the city's zoning code.
“This is in fact not really a park," Spoonster said. "It’s a boat launch. If you look at the conditionally permitted uses allowed ... A boat launch is not one of the allowed conditionally permitted uses under the zoning code.”
The evolution of the plans for the 6-acre site throughout the years would seem to support Spoonster's argument. The parks department has repeatedly scaled down plans — in response to residents' concerns — to eliminate restroom and picnic facilities, remove a dock, reduce the number of parking spaces and lower the lighting.
Idone said previously all those reductions were made to lessen the impact of the park on the neighborhood while still serving primarily as an access point for canoe and kayak launching on the Cuyahoga River.
But planning commissioner Peter Paino said the definition of a park is subjective and can be uninterpreted in different ways. He said the parks department's plans for the site meet all the city's requirements for issuing a conditional use permit.
Commission member Melissa Long said the park is clearly not just a boat launch as Spoonster suggested.
“To me, a park is anywhere there is public access for recreational purposes," she said. "And surely that’s what you have here.”
The planning commission voted unanimously to grant the conditional use certificate to the parks department and approve the parking plan.
"I don’t think it disturbs residential use on the whole," chairman Sean Kaine said. "And it certainly hasn’t been shown to be hazardous in any way.”