Today's deadline threatening demolition of the Kent Wells Sherman House if it was not moved from land owned by Kent State University appears flexible after all.
News came Friday that a Portage County magistrate had denied a request from a group of Kent residents looking to stop the relocation of the historic house to a vacant lot at 247 N. Water St.
The house, which had to be moved for construction of Kent State's Esplanade extension, was temporary relocated to a small parcel of university land at the western end of East College Avenue in August.
Both university and city officials said the house had to be moved from that locale by today or it would be demolished so it did not interfere with city plow trucks that use that dead-end portion of East College Avenue to turn around during winter storms.
But Kent State spokesperson Emily Vincent said university officials were awaiting the magistrate's decision and the final outcome of the court case before moving forward with demolition.
"Right now we didn’t have plans to demolish the house on Dec. 1," Vincent said Friday.
Court makes partial ruling
The court case started in October when Kent residents behind the group Save the Standing Rock Garden filed an appeal to the September Kent Planning Commission decision that allowed moving the house to the North Water Street site, which had been used by the neighboring non-profit Standing Rock Cultural Arts for about 20 years as a rehearsal and demonstration space.
The group, which is not directly affiliated with Standing Rock Cultural Arts, argued that the Kent Architectural Review Board violated Ohio Sunshine Laws by not properly advertising a meeting that addressed the issue. They further claimed the planning commission's decision should be overturned because, in part, comments from residents who opposed the move were not properly considered in the decision and the approval partially relied on a recommendation from the architecture board.
On those grounds, the group's attorney, John Plough, asked the court for an injunction that would prohibit Kent Wells Sherman House, Inc., the group trying to relocate the house, from doing any site work at the North Water Street lot and physically moving the house there.
Portage County magistrate Kent Graham's ruling this week denied a preliminary injunction request to stop placement of the house on the lot, which is owned by the KWSH group.
"The motion for a preliminary injunction ... prohibiting (Kent) Wells Sherman House, Inc., from disturbing or removing trees, plants, and soils, making any excavation, and placing structures or equipment on its property located at 247 N. Water St. ... is denied," the magistrate's ruling reads in part.
However, that may not be the final decision.
Kent Assistant Law Director Eric Fink said the magistrate's order does address the injunction request, but it reserves ruling on whether or not the architectural review board and the planning commission violated Ohio law and, if they did, should a remedy void the site plan and essentially force the Kent Wells Sherman House group to submit a new site plan and start the process for moving the house over from scratch.
"The way the magistrate wrote it, it’s subject to some interpretation," he said.
Fink said Graham told attorneys on the record that his initial ruling on the injunction prohibits actual construction of a foundation on the site until a final ruling on the actions of the two citizen boards is determined.
"He said that on the record to us, but it was not contained in the written order," Fink said. "And of course the written order trumps anything said in court."
Fink said the magistrate's office indicated the final ruling would be issued next week.
But members of the Kent Wells Sherman House group see this week's ruling on the injunction as an overall victory in the case.
Roger Thurman, vice president of the Kent Wells Sherman House Inc. board, said they interpret the ruling on the injunction to mean the magistrate is unlikely to find the two citizen boards improperly ruled on the issue and as a result vacate the site plan.
Thus, they can start building the foundation and make final plans for moving the house, he said.
"It's over," Thurman said. "If the magistrate thought the planning commission and the architecture board didn’t follow Ohio laws, then he wouldn’t have released the injunction. Technically yeah, something could happen. But I think it’s unlikely."
Lisa Regula Meyer, who organized the Save the Standing Rock Garden and is the first plaintiff named in the appeal case, said they believe if the magistrate determines that either citizen board decision should be nullified then that could potentially stop the relocation.
"The removal of the temporary restraining order isn't the only thing that matters," she said.
Timeline for move unclear
Kent State officials may not be immediately planning to demolish the house, but how long of a stay of execution the university will grant it is unclear.
"It is our hope that we can move forward with the transaction and relocation of the house," Vincent said. "Details still need to be worked out."
The Kent Wells Sherman House group also needs a final permit from the city to build the foundation on the North Water Street lot for the house, and that permit remains in the technical review process.
Bridget Susel, director of the Kent Community Development Department, said the city is waiting to hear back from the group's architect on corrections to the first set of building plans that were reviewed Nov. 5.
"There were some technical deficiencies in terms of what needed to be referenced back to the building code," she said. "They have not resubmitted plans for a second review to address the items found in the first plan review."
And the group also would have to obtain the necessary approvals to move the house in the public right of way and address any obstacles to the physical move — such as traffic lights — from where it sits on East College Avenue to the North Water Street site.
Add to all that red tape the fact that winter weather could slow any site construction and seeing the house move before January appears unlikely.
Though Thurman is optimistic that, pending the magistrate's final ruling and obtaining all the necessary permits, the house could be relocated by the first of the year.
"We need to do that because we have a tenant waiting to move in there," he said. "I’m optimistic, but I was optimistic before."