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Boarding House Request Debated by Zoning Board

Park Avenue property owner wants change from single-family to boarding house status

The evolution of Kent's housing stock from single family homes to multi-family rental properties took center stage at the Kent Board of Zoning Appeals.

Front and center in the revived debate is the house at 335 Park Ave., which is owned by Steve Kubofcik. The Solon resident wants to convert the house from  single family zoning to Kent's boarding house designation — a change that would permit more than two unrelated people to live there.

Kubofcik, who bought the then-vacant house in April 2012 at auction for $50,000, said he bought it with plans to let his daughter live in the house while she attends Kent State University.

He is asking for the rooming house status so he can rent the remaining two bedrooms out to pay for his cost to buy the house and make improvements, including replacing some windows, repairing or replacing doors and decks and adding new siding.

"At the time I purchased it, it was a vacant home in serious disrepair," Kubofcik told the zoning board Monday. "I’ve since put quite a bit of expense into it and brought it from one of the least desirable homes on the street to one of the more desirable homes on the street."

Kent ordinances prohibit houses with more than two unrelated people unless they obtain a boarding house status from the city.

Earlier this month, members of the planning commission and city administration commended Kubofcik for asking for the conversion from a single-family to rooming house status instead of running the house as an illegal boarding house in secret.

After brief discussion, the planning commission voted unanimously to permit the conversion with several conditions, including the zoning board also sign off on the change and the property revert to single-family zoning after Kubofcik sells it.

Zoning board members debated the the issue for nearly two hours Monday night before Kubofcik asked for their vote to be tabled until March, when all five members — zoning board member Diane Werner was absent — may be present to decide.

To permit the boarding house conversion the zoning board would have had to grant two variances regarding the size of the house's lot.

Elizabeth Howard, chair of the zoning board, asked three times if a member of the zoning board wanted to move to grant the variances.

"And every time it went back into further discussion," she said. "That’s unprecedented. It’s never happened quite like that before."

Howard said the issue proved more complex than a simple matter of granting variances to permit a boarding house with a smaller lot size than required by city code.

"This is the kind of request that in many ways is the most difficult for me," Howard said. "I don’t think it’s unreasonable for three unrelated people to live there. Personal feelings aside, I'm here to uphold city code. At the same time, I think it’s also legitimate to consider the work that has been done to an otherwise unsellable house."

In recent years, members of Kent's citizen planning boards and city planning staff have reworked city codes in an effort to restrict such conversions of single-family houses to rental properties while encouraging the maintenance of single-family properties.

Zoning board member Paul Sellman said Kubofcik's property is not the kind of poorly maintained, overcrowded boarding house the city is trying to prevent.

"My heart says this is a minor intrusion into the code," he said. "I know of other people who bought houses for their children to live in while they go to school.

"The thing is, if we give a little here and we give a little here, why do we even have the code?” Sellman said.

Kubofcik said he was unaware Kent's zoning code prohibited more than two unrelated people in a house when he bought the property and said it's an unusual law most communities don't have on the books.

Howard rebuffed his argument and said ignorance of the law is not a strong enough case on its own to permit the conversion.

Kubofcik also argued that limiting him to only two residents, his daughter and one tenant, poses a financial hardship because the property would not earn enough revenue to cover his cost to buy and renovate the house.

He pointed to the fact the house is in a district zoned R-4, which allows multi-family housing, and said he would like to sell it once his daughter graduates from Kent State.

"Virtually every home is a rental or multi-family on the street," Kubofcik said.

In 2011, five houses on Park Avenue were listed as licensed boarding houses with the Kent Health Department. But only two of those licensed houses are located within the same block as Kubofcik's between Gougler Avenue and Mantua Street. The other three are on Park Avenue west of Mantua Street.

Those same five houses also were licensed boarding houses by the health department in 2012. All five of those houses are owned by Kent residents, according to health department records.

Even Kubofcik's daughter, Katie, made the case for the conversion to the zoning board Monday night.

"I would think that Kent would like the fact that the house does look a lot better than it used to," she said. "And for four years, that would be great if I could go and attend Kent" and afterward the house revert to single-family status.

All four members of the zoning board present Monday agreed they like the improvements made to the property.

Zoning board member Dave Mail said he's not sure if Kubofcik's finacial situation poses enough of a financial hardship to warrant the conversion.

"This falls right on the edge of the razor," he said. "I really would like him to have his daughter live there and go to school.

"My feeling is, I think the code is rather restrictive, but it is there for a reason," Mail said. "What is the hardship in this, other than it costs money to have kids go to college?"

Chris (Kit) Myers February 01, 2013 at 12:21 PM
By the way, Ms. Shaffer, the charming house that I rescued at 220 East Elm Street was a vacant rental that was well along in the trashification (you like that word?) process except you couldn't tell how bad it was from the street. Neighborhoods slide into decay... one house at a time. Stop by and see the progress.
Kasha Legeza February 01, 2013 at 08:14 PM
A similar event occurred in 2009 in our neighborhood, where a Cleveland-area dad bought a single-family home for his son and numerous friends to live in while attending Kent State. After being told he was operating an illegal boarding house, the owner tried to get variances to convert the home into a duplex. Neighbors -- who've long been fighting to restore integrity to our mixed-use neighborhood -- rallied to protest the variance requests. Thankfully, the BZA denied them, the students moved out and the owner sold the home to a family. (Here's a link to the meeting minutes: http://www.kentohio.org/boards/2009/BZA-03-16-09.pdf). I agree, Mr. McMinn, that neither the city -- nor neighborhood single-family homeowners -- should have to "assist" people who don't perform due diligence before buying a property. Far too many beautiful old homes (and complete neighborhoods in Kent) are trashed because they were allowed to be converted into student rentals by negligent landlords. City officials should be striving to reverse this problem but, sadly, the appearance of once-charming neighborhoods are clearly not of concern to most of them.
jim February 01, 2013 at 08:54 PM
I would like to point out that someone mentioned that the neighborhood is zoned R-4, which does allow boarding houses also there are some neighborhoods that are zoned exclusively single family. Boarding house living is not just a way for students to save money, but in these hard times (and harder times to come!) not having affordable options will increase homelessness. Single adults who are working and poor, and who do not have the benefit of family to live with, or who are in non-traditional relationships out of necessity or by choice, can stave-off the specter of homelessness by sharing the costs of ownership 3or 4 ways. But if they are not related that can be illegal or a difficult find in Kent. A community the size of Kent can and should be able to differentiate between negligent property owners, and those that do not comply with codes. If the intent of the R-4 code is to eliminate boarding houses by attrition, then that would be gentrification (a social and economic justice issue), something to avoid also; as long as business owners insist on lower wages then something needs to be done to control the cost of living. On the other hand, if the intent is to allow non-student boarding house, or more than 2 unrelated people to own a house, (would still have to get it licensed), then I believe there are codes and ordinances to allow the City to differentiate between owners, without it being considered favoritism!
Kasha Legeza February 01, 2013 at 10:29 PM
Sue -- You shouldn't have to live next to an illegal boarding house for one week, much less six years! I encourage you to draft a neighborhood petition seeking action, get it signed by other single-family homeowners in your neighborhood (including adjacent streets) and then send it to city administrators and council members. Actions such as this have paid off in our neighborhood. After all, one voice is easy to ignore, but the voices of many are not!
jim February 02, 2013 at 04:03 AM
I'd like to correct "and those that do not comply ..." with ".."those that do comply" ..!

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