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Green Space Trumps Historic Preservation

Planning Commission turns down site plan for North Water Street relocation of historic Kent Wells Sherman House.

Three of five Kent Planning Commission members chose green-space preservation over saving a Civil War-era home from possible demolition by rejecting plans Tuesday for relocating the Kent Wells Sherman House to a vacant North Water Street parcel.

Commission members Anthony Catalano, John Gargan Jr. and Peter Paino voted against approving a site plan for the non-profit Kent Wells Sherman House Inc., a group formed in March to save the historic structure found to have ties to the Kent family and other prominent citizens.

Voting in favor of the site plan were commission members Gregory Balbierz and Melissa Long.

The house relocation from East Erie Street is necessary for construction of , a led project designed to create a pedestrian link between campus and downtown Kent.

After months of research the volunteer group chose a vacant parcel at 247 N. Water St., adjacent to and ’s parking lot, from among more than a dozen possible sites for the Greek Revival style house.

Soon after announcing their choice, supporters of Standing Rock and its North Water Street Gallery began voicing opposition to the relocation plan. For nearly 20 years Standing Rock has used and tended the lot – with the landowner’s permission – for a wide variety of arts and nature programs and events and as community garden space.

Relocation opponents in late June urging Kent City Council members to help save the green space. On Tuesday, Beth Goran presented commission members with a hardcopy of the petition bearing 315 signatures.

Catalano, commission chairman, said he considered the petition when deciding to vote against the site plan. “We have to weigh what we’re gaining against what we’re losing,” he said.

Gargan said he viewed the North Water Street site choice “as a marriage of convenience” that would eliminate a unique green space in a neighborhood that has an industrial feel. “I really think we’re losing something,” he said.

No other reasons were publicly stated for turning down the project – one that city planning staff members had recommended approving.

On Monday, Kent’s Board of Zoning Appeals unanimously approved three variances that would have allowed the historic structure to be moved onto the North Water parcel. The group had secured a purchase agreement for the property and lined up funding to move the house and build a new foundation for it.

During Tuesday's meeting, seven “Save the Standing Rock Garden!” proponents spoke in opposition to the house relocation and three members of SRCA’s group presented a short skit expressing their feelings about possibly losing the garden.

Caroline Arnold called the parcel “a little oasis of green space” downtown, while Elaine Hullihen described it as “an incredible asset to the community that has added dramatically to the quality of life in Kent.”

Josh Goran said he believes it would be foolish to destroy public green space in order to save a house and that the small parcel, as it stands, “has developed its own dynamic history.”

Roger Thurman, vice president of the Kent Wells Sherman House Inc. board, urged the commission to help save the last surviving full two-story Greek Revival house in Kent. There are other Greek Revivals in the city, but they’re one-and-a-half stories, he explained.

“We have no time to dillydally around moving this (house). We need to get this done,” Thurman said, referring to the Aug. 4 deadline agreed upon by the city and university to have the former homes on East Erie Street demolished.

Thurman said via email late Tuesday night that “there are options” and that the board will meet at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday to “clarify which (option) to take.”

Jeff Ingram, SRCA director, said he has already spoken with the owner of 247 N. Water about Standing Rock buying the land should the house relocation project fall through. Ingram said funds are available for the purchase and that SRCA would work with a landscape architect to design a kids’ play area and urban garden.

Once a decision has been made by the planning commission, the case is closed for the commission and there is no provision to reopen it. Commission decisions can be appealed to the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals.

Laurel Myers Hurst July 18, 2012 at 09:17 PM
There is a vast difference between a facility/property that is open to the public and a facility/property that is public. Both SRCA and KWSHI are trying to do something good for the people of Kent. Personally, I would love to see the Wells Sherman house on the N. Water Street property or in another location where it can be tucked into an immaculately maintained 19th century kitchen garden complete with espalier fruit trees and a grape arbor...make it complete with a nifty chicken coop, and we're really talking! It is disappointing that the Planning Commission appears to have broken its own rules to deny relocation of the WS House even though the lot is zoned to allow a much bigger building than the proposed one. To my knowledge, the Zoning Board approved the move because the building conforms to appropriate use. Because this is a private agreement between two private entities, the Zoning Board and the Planning Commission really shouldn't, by law, stop it unless they can provide reasonable evidence that the use breaks existing ordinances and Planning Commission rules. Several such cases are on the Planning Commission agenda for this summer, and I don't like to see the city planners playing hijinx with the law to conform to public opinion when it comes to personal property rights. Maybe that's more clear than my original "venting" post?
Laurel Myers Hurst July 18, 2012 at 09:32 PM
Since I am not a member of the SRCA inner-circle, Transportage or KWSHI, can I as a basic question. I am aware, and have been from the first Patch article on this topic, that SRCA has been caretaking the property in question at their own expense at the behest of the property owner. Was there ever, in word or in writing, an agreement that SRCA had first rights to purchase the property should it ever be put up for sale? Like in so many relationships that are close-knit, the problem appears to be one of disappointed expectations. From an outsiders perspective, SRCA seems wounded that they weren't given an exclusive opportunity to purchase the property in question (whether or not they were able to pay for it). If there was a "gentleman's agreement" that SRCA had use of the property into perpetuity, that is troublesome. If SRCA had no such agreement with the property owner, then it seems that SRCA is going through the throws of grief over losing something they highly value...something that seemed permanent has become elusive. It's a hard pill to swallow.
The Omnipotent Sponge - Soak it up! July 18, 2012 at 09:39 PM
Alex, the things you've mentioned are not ugly in any way. It's Earth. We, humans, are a part of nature. We aren't immune to the perils of the natural world, so much as we try to barracade ourselves from it. Nature doesn't just "kill people", all plant and animal life on this earth succomb to their own diseases, predators and such. And many at the hands of humans. We're part of the whole planet, even if it's hard to imagine from inside the walls of our natureless homes. It's an incredible, beautiful system out there. It's our support system. We wouldn't be here without the Earth and all her various cycles. She'd still be here without us. Tornados, floods, wildfires, droughts, viruses, plagues... They all have their causes and effects. It's part of the crazy awesomeness of this life giving planet. Try to see the beauty in it, even if you can't see the immediate benefit for yourself. After all, without mother nature and the ins and outs of her daily chores, we wouldn't exist at all...
Laurel Myers Hurst July 18, 2012 at 09:50 PM
:) It's a great system (the right to express opinion publicly!) For the record, I'm not confused about whether SRCA believes it owns the property. I've been following this story from the first Patch post, but I do believe that SRCA sees the space as a neutral zone...a place that rises ABOVE the need to OWN. We can, justly, lay claim on the places/people/things we love, tend, maintain and invest in--at least emotionally.
Tina Puckett July 18, 2012 at 10:26 PM
Laurel, would you be more agreeable to an individual calling the property owner and telling him they are interested in a purchase that benefits SRCA and SRCA is on board to secure the purchase when that individual has never consulted SRCA about purchasing and knows the land was in use and maintained for 20 years?
Laurel Myers Hurst July 18, 2012 at 10:35 PM
Regarding this comment: I personally think the house is an ugly pile of rubbish, but others see the beauty in it and want to keep it." Mary Lou, I must ask (though somewhat facetiously and running the risk of getting hopelessly off topic) do you live in a naturally-existing cave? I agree that living in a naturally existing habitat is appealing (as a long-distance backpacker, I get closer to this than many US citizens), but the natural-order for most human beings, world-wide, is to dominate the earth in one way or another to make unnaturally-occurring clothing and shelter. There is no issue of morality or creed surrounding this decision, it is a matter of survival. To bring this post back to a point of relevance, does SRCA oppose situating the WS House on the vacant property in a way that preserves the open green space between them, given that the green space might be transformed from a somewhat natural habitat (what some might call vegetation run amok) into a more cultivated and more agriculturally productive 18th-century reproduction garden? Has a proposal/dream-garden even been put on the table? [I can grab my colored pencils!!] Given that pesticides and manufactured fertilizers were not in use during the period of the WS construction, I'm sure the Historical Society and Dr. Green Bee could assist the KWSHI in making a period-reproduction garden a model for environmentally-friendly food production and beautification.
Laurel Myers Hurst July 18, 2012 at 10:46 PM
Tina, like I said, I'm an outsider. You are speaking to terms too vague for me to make an informed comment. No one should ever go back on his/her word if at all possible. If an agreement must be re-negotiated, in good faith every partner should be willing to put emotions aside and come back to the table--even the wounded/offended partner. Sometimes things change, and sometimes we disagree about the history/timeline/causes of issues that become problems. I hear a lot of frustration and anger in these posts. I honestly don't know who wounded who, and I have no way of knowing. For the good of the citizens and the city, the insiders need to come to the table in a neutral location, give up trying to straighten out who made the first wrong move, and decide to walk together as partners--humbly, mercifully and justly. The organizations involved in this debate have a reputation for being able to do so in the past. We'll get through this. p.s. Gotta love 4-H cooking project week. While I sit here typing away, my 14 and 17 yr. old are cooking dinner for the family!
greg griffith July 18, 2012 at 11:23 PM
I am a member of the Kent community who has resided here for a number of years. I came to Kent for KSU and stayed for Kent. One of the first places that welcomed me to the city was Standing Rock and more specifically an event that was being held at the garden adjacent to the gallery. This was back in 2001 when I first arrived in Kent and since then I have been fortunate to enjoy many sunny summer evenings at the Standing Rock Garden in beautiful downtown Kent. As a member of the Kent community, I am an ardent supporter of the Standing Rock Garden, and all of the beauty that comes with it. From the artist and amazing personalities down to the beautiful green and the shady trees that invite all, especially on the hottest days of summer. Cities around the nation, indeed the world, are clamoring for ways to reclaim even just a fraction of green space to bring comfort and sanity to the concrete jungle. From guerrilla and square foot gardening to expansive reclaimed city plots, green is in, always should be. In my past I have had the good fortune of bringing the message of gardening and green space to communities, I managed a program called the Community Health and Strength Initiative. A principal pilar of the initiative was to create more green spaces, be they passive parks and playgrounds to active community gardens that serve as a central space to meet, greet and eat promoting health. It is in that spirit I believe Standing Rock Garden exists and to that I say, Viva La Garden!
greg griffith July 18, 2012 at 11:24 PM
* I'm reposting this...
Tina Puckett July 19, 2012 at 12:34 AM
SRCA has offered to help and negotiate for a win-win situation multiple times only to have KWSHI make public comment that we've been unwilling. That is frustrating.
Jake July 19, 2012 at 01:48 AM
I hope now SRCA will do the right thing and negotiate the purchase of the land they claim as their own. Is the property owner now forever denied a say on how his land is used because he was foolish enough to let these artist use his land?
Joshua Goran July 19, 2012 at 01:52 AM
I probably should have said "community space" rather than "public space." What I meant was that for the past 20 years, that yard has offered a place for any responsible community activity to take place. I think the main issue I have with this entire situation is that the folks who represent TransPortage and KWSHI are making unsubstantiated claims about reaching out to SRCA and the community as a whole, and I understand that issue extends to some of the closed-door arrangements that have been made without public knowledge. Laurel, I understand that private property rights are part of this issue, but I think what Tina was alluding to is that in the beginning of this process SRCA's interest in the relocation project may have been misrepresented by TransPortage/KWSHI (then FWSH) and that misrepresentation framed this whole situation. I was present at the meeting that founded TransPortage and have participated in a number of events and projects with that organization and, along with others who had similar involvements with TransPortage, I feel that organization was commandeered into representing a community that wasn't even aware of what was going on. That has since changed, as TransPortage has "transferred all interest" to KWSHI due to resistance within TransPortage. Further, I think it's irresponsible of the city to throw money behind a project that its own representatives can be quoted as saying they have no concrete plans for and haven't done enough research on.
Joshua Goran July 19, 2012 at 01:55 AM
I also don't agree with the headline for this article; I believe it makes the issue seem like green space supporters want the house torn down. My perspective, at least, is that I'd love to see the house preserved, just not at 247 N. Water Street, and I feel the green space (which community members have already started raising money to purchase if the current purchase agreement with TransPortage/KWSHI falls through) is a more vital asset to our community.
Laurel Myers Hurst July 19, 2012 at 02:48 AM
While honest and civil communication is warranted, the legal process also needs time to work itself out. The fact that city council approved plans to support the relocation of WS doesn't, by law, directly affect the guidelines by which either the Zoning Board or Planning Commission make their decisions. Each should weigh the evidence submitted by KWSHI on its own merits. Citizens are welcome to express opinion, but if they disagree with the rule of law the law itself should be revised via proper channels. If the property owner agrees to sell the land to KWSHI and the plans for relocating WS adhere to proper use for private property, denying KWSHI its request would go against the written rules for city planning (currently, the request meets zoning requirements). An organization run with its own interests as well as the interests of its community in mind will keep an open line of communication. However, that doesn't mean what is communicated will be immediately/equally palatable to all.
Laurel Myers Hurst July 19, 2012 at 02:49 AM
As it has been so oft stated before, "Aye, there's the rub." The heart of the matter, according to Joshua, Tina and Lisa, seems to be that SCRA was cut out of the loop. No matter when it happened and no matter how it happened, SCRA perceives that it happened. It may seem naive, but I still claim that the more mature and goodhearted organization will get off the crazy cycle and be the first one to come to the table. SCRA and KWSHI are both organizations with good and honorable intentions.
Laurel Myers Hurst July 19, 2012 at 03:21 AM
Rrrr...Jake, you're not helping matters. Neither side in this debate thinks that SRCA thinks/says they own the land.
Joseph Hughes July 19, 2012 at 03:40 AM
"SCRA and KWSHI are both organizations with good and honorable intentions." Given what I've seen from members of KWSHI, I can't in good conscience agree with that statement, Laurel. In theory, maybe. In practice, not at all.
Laurel Myers Hurst July 19, 2012 at 03:54 AM
Joseph, when one party does everything it can to escalate tension in a situation, we can safely assume it does not have good intentions to negotiate. At the same time, just because one partner in a negotiation is tense, doesn't mean the other partner in negotiations has bad intentions. I've learned that in my marriage, in my family of origin, with my kids and with my friends. ...and, it's never too late for either party to get off the crazy cycle of escalation and get back to the table. Therefore, I remain married to this day :)
Joseph Hughes July 19, 2012 at 04:05 AM
Laurel, I understand the "can't we all just get along" please. I really do. But the folks behind KWSHI started this process by misleading the owner of the lot in question. They then proceeded to repeatedly mislead city officials. They have not acted in good faith toward the SRCA folks whatsoever this entire time. And now that their unprofessionalism and inadequate prep work have come back to bite them in the form of the planning commission ruling and them not having their financial ducks in order, they're acting as though everyone has to rush their pet project though without due process. I don't want that house torn down. I just don't want it on that lot. I laugh when I see KWSHI members talking about how much hard work they've put into this issue. It's been a couple of months of work, as opposed to more than 20 years of a very positive thing that's happened on that lot. Just tonight at council you had one of the top members of KWSHI telling the body voting to loan them a sizable amount of money that their one and only backup plan was to wait and see how their appeal works out more than a week after the deadline to move the house. And just tonight I heard multiple new suggestions for possible locations, only to see both members of KWSHI and council member Tracy Wallach act as though time was up and NOTHING would do other than the lot in question. Aside: For someone who tonight claimed to have no relation to KWSHI, Tracy Wallach sure acted like she had an agenda.
Joseph Hughes July 19, 2012 at 04:08 AM
All of this is to say one thing: Everyone affiliated with SRCA, from what I've seen on the outside, has been BEYOND willing to work with those in KWSHI to build consensus and find a new location — and this is despite all of the double dealing that KWSHI has done. So far, KWSHI has shown no real intention (other than public posturing) to take the high road and sit down to do something great as a team. That's unfortunate.
Laurel Myers Hurst July 19, 2012 at 04:24 AM
Just going off what I've gleaned from Patch: 1. There is no record, in the press, that the owner of the vacant lot feels now or has felt at any time that he was mislead by KWSHI. 2. There is no record that public officials felt mislead by KWSHI. 3. From extensive comments on Patch, it is self-evident that SRCA believes KWSHI has not acted in good faith. 4. No amount of prep work and professionalism can overcome a Planning Commission that supports a project but, at its final vote, decides to vacate the project due to a show of negative public opinion. 5. At this time, it appears that no one in SRCA wants to see the WS House on the lot in question, but whether it will go there is a matter of written rules and guidelines and the right of the property owner to negotiate with a private, non-profit entity.
Joseph Hughes July 19, 2012 at 04:26 AM
She certainly didn't recuse herself tonight. Between this issue and her poor handling of the Baker Towing issue, I'm guessing she'll be getting a run for her money the next time her seat is up for a vote.
Laurel Myers Hurst July 19, 2012 at 04:44 AM
Oops, tried to correct a typo and erased my comment: 6. SRCA has a 2-decade long attachment to the property in question and losing it would hurt. SRCA has one vision for use of the lot and the proposal doesn't meet their expectations. 7. Tonight, KWSHI gave an update to City Council that has already approved lending money for the purchase. Council was not "voting" to loan KWSHI the money. 8. Tracy Wallach learned about the WS House and the effort to move/restore it through the original presentation to council. She got involved after that time because it seemed a worthwhile effort. When it came time to vote on loaning money for the WS project, she recused herself. She is never required to recuse herself from the discussion or from commenting. Would we want the council members most knowledgeable about a subject at question before the council to withhold what they know? Heaven help us if council members ever stop learning about and getting involved with things that are going on in our town. She has, and I trust she will continue, to recuse herself from council votes regarding WS, though she shouldn't be expected or required to withhold comment. 9. A multitude of variables are in play when considering relocating a house. At first thought or at first glance many lots may seem likely candidates. Only by walking the route, measuring everything and calculating all costs can the feasible sites be determined. Folks in KWSHI are experts at that, from what I know.
Laurel Myers Hurst July 19, 2012 at 04:53 AM
:/ [Editing my own post erased the following...] Joseph Hughes: "All of this is to say one thing: Everyone affiliated with SRCA, from what I've seen on the outside, has been BEYOND willing to work with those in KWSHI to build consensus and find a new location — and this is despite all of the double dealing that KWSHI has done. So far, KWSHI has shown no real intention (other than public posturing) to take the high road and sit down to do something great as a team. That's unfortunate." Joseph Hughes: "She certainly didn't recuse herself tonight. Between this issue and her poor handling of the Baker Towing issue, I'm guessing she'll be getting a run for her money the next time her seat is up for a vote."
Laurel Myers Hurst July 19, 2012 at 04:58 AM
Joseph, what you have expressed doesn't represent an effort of SRCA to negotiate. It represents an ultimatum: this piece of private property of which we are not the owner must remain a garden in the style of our liking; therefore, KWSHI must find another location for the Wells-Sherman Home or SRCA will assume KWSHI has ill-intentions toward us.
Jake July 19, 2012 at 05:06 AM
They don't think they own it, just wish to dictate how it's used? Laura, please explain the difference. SRCA says it's use has a value to the community, they should stand up and put their money where their mouths are.
I.M. Wright July 19, 2012 at 11:47 AM
Interesting on how this has generated 50+ comments, but yet NO ONE can address what I asked earlier: That why this group is so determined to have THIS spot, when they've acknowledged "more than a dozen possible spots." It's really difficult taking this group that wants to preserve this house seriously when they can't even address a valid question.
Lisa Regula Meyer July 19, 2012 at 11:57 AM
I.M., there are lots of questions that this group hasn't answered, and a member of the planning commission stated it best calling the project "a marriage of convenience." I would add that it's a marriage of convenience helped by ties to present and former council members. Their asking for loans to do all this is a no-brainer (according to a member of the group itself), as the worst that will happen to them if this fails is the house gets foreclosed. Then there's one less green space, and one more blighted house in Kent. That's good intentions, isn't it?
The Omnipotent Sponge - Soak it up! July 19, 2012 at 03:29 PM
Thankfully we see the world differently.
john July 20, 2012 at 12:34 PM
I travel too much for work, and clean too many yards to worry about cutting down a bunch of weeds in a property that personally looks like trash. If it were upto me, if would cut 80% of the stuff down and replant something worthwhile. But hey, thats me. Not to mention, everyone is talking about how wonderful and well kept the property is then why are there so many beer bottles located within? Sounds like a dump and place for people to hide to do no good.

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