Councilman Critical of Kent Architecture Board

Ward 4 Kent City Councilman John Kuhar says group's action on courthouse project created "major issue."

At least one member of is unhappy with the way the Kent Architectural Review Board has addressed the new courthouse project.

Ward 4 Councilman John Kuhar sent an email to the rest of council in which he criticized the four-person advisory board for acting as a governing authority.

"It appears that what I feared would happen is happening," Kuhar wrote in the email, sent this month. "When we originally came up with the architectural advisory board it was never meant to be a governing authority. The board was only to aid businesses in their construction decisions."

Members of the board have criticized the new Kent courthouse project first to East Main Street and then .

Portage County officials listened on the first account and have since proposed moving the building further back from East Main Street, but that change resulted in the on the site — something city officials sought to maximize in order to add to downtown's already crowded parking spaces.

The architecture board did grant a "certificate of appropriateness" for the project earlier this month. However, the architecture board urged the Kent Planning Commission to only approve the project if the main entrance is moved from the corner to the center front of the building. The commission will vote on the project's site plan tonight at 7 p.m.

County officials have so far refused to relent on their desire to keep the corner entrance.

In his email, Kuhar called the courthouse project and the proposed changes a "major issue."

"We have lost valuable parking spaces and the county is being asked to change the plans that meet their needs best," Kuhar wrote in the email, sent Aug. 8. "I think the new design looks great, and (it) makes a lot of sense for the entry to be a corridor."

It doesn't appear as if the architecture review board overstepped its bounds.

Kent Assistant Law Director Eric Fink said the architecture review board is charged with reviewing any proposed projects within the city's architecture overlay district — essentially the historic downtown district — and issuing a certificate of appropriateness for the project. The certificate is a requirement for projects in the district in order to continue through the city planning process, which is followed by a review from the planning commission and the Kent Board of Zoning Appeals.

"They are to make sure the building complies with the architectural review guidelines the council has also adopted," Fink said.

The architecture board must also review projects involving city money and issue a certificate. The board may also review projects outside the architecture overlay district, but a certificate of appropriateness is not a requirement and any comments made by the board are non-binding.

Fink said the architecture board has more leeway on a project within the architecture overlay district when compared with the zoning board or planning commission.

"If a building, for example, were going to be built with red-and-white candy cane stripes, the zoning board would have no authority to say anything about it, and the planning commission couldn’t really use that as a reason to deny a project," he said. "But if it’s in the downtown district next to three brick buildings, the architecture review board would have the authority to say 'This is not an appropriate project.'"

Fink said because the certificate of appropriateness is a legal requirement for projects within the overlay district, and because council formally appointed members last week, that means the architecture board operates as a quasi-judicial board like the other two planning boards.

The board had been operating strictly as an advisory panel because council had previously not formally appointed its members by city resolution. Because there were no formal members when the courthouse project was initially presented the courthouse did not need a certificate of appropriatness, Fink said.

Council formally appointed Howard Boyle, Glen Dreyer, Elizabeth Eaken, Doug Fuller, and Alan Orashan last week.

By his interpretation, reviewing the building's setback and main entrance fall within the architecture board's jurisdiction, Fink said.

"Their task is to review these projects," he said. "Whether or not you like their recommendations, that is probably in the eye of the beholder. But that is their task."

The architecture board meets this afternoon to review plans for the Kent Wells-Sherman House and Fairmount Properties' "Building C" as part of the downtown redevelopment.


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