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Kent Wells Sherman House Relocation Edges Closer to Reality

Group vying to save 1858 structure granted variances by zoning appeals board; more reviews on tap this week.

The effort to save the 1858 Kent Wells Sherman House from a wrecking ball cleared several zoning hurdles Monday, but must negotiate more governmental hurdles tonight and Wednesday to stave off an Aug. 4 demolition deadline.

Kent’s Board of Zoning Appeals on Monday unanimously approved three variances requested by the non-profit group Kent Sherman Wells House Inc. to relocate the Greek Revival-style home from its present East Erie Street site to a vacant lot at 247 N. Water St.

The move is necessary for construction of , a led project designed to create a pedestrian link between campus and downtown Kent.

The volunteer group working to save the house with ties to the Kent family and other prominent citizens chose the 247 N. Water St. lot – sandwiched between and – from among more than a dozen possible sites.

The variances granted Monday by the zoning appeals board will:

  • Allow the proposed relocated building to have a 15-foot setback from its front property line, the sidewalk, instead of zero setback as called for in Kent’s commercial-downtown zoning district. This move had already been recommended by the Architectural Review Board to improve the building’s street presence and maintain its historic nature. According to a city staff report, adjacent landowners also requested the setback to maintain exposure of a window and sign at Standing Rock gallery and Cherokee artist Edwin George’s mural, “Love,” on the Scribbles building.
  • Allow the historic building to occupy only 48 percent of the lot’s street frontage as opposed to the 70 percent required by city code. The North Water Street parcel is 50 feet wide and the former house, which is just over 24 feet wide, will be centered on it. A site plan is attached to this article in .pdf form.
  • Allow the non-profit group to erect a free-standing sign in the front yard area instead of mounting one on the building itself, as required by code. The sign design will need approval by the Architectural Review Board prior to installation.

Appeals board member Steve Balazs, owner of the Scribbles Coffee building, said he’s grateful the vacant lot is being bought for a small project with a 15-foot setback because it allows for a view of the Edwin George mural “that has become an icon in our community.”

Balazs pointed out that the long-vacant lot could have been sold to someone who, by code, could build a new structure right up to the front and side property lines. “It’s kind of a blessing in disguise, getting a smaller building on this footprint,” he said.

Member Diane Werner said the board is usually asked to grant variances for buildings too large for their proposed lots, and that this was the first request she had ever seen for a project “too small” for the lot.

 “It could be a much worse outcome for surrounding businesses,” Werner said. “I think everybody wins in this situation.”

Opponents of the relocation do not want SRCA to lose the neighboring vacant lot it has used for years for a variety of projects and events. Jeff Ingram, Standing Rock executive director, told the appeals board that granting the variances would adversely affect his business because the historic structure would block natural light coming into the gallery.

Board member Elizabeth Howard said that while she understands Ingram’s point, there will be nearly 13 feet of land remaining between the Kent Wells Sherman House and Standing Rock gallery, so the natural light will only be reduced, not eliminated.

 “We’ve already lost, over time, too many historic buildings,” Howard said.

The Planning Commission will review the project’s site plan during a 7 p.m. meeting tonight at City Hall. On Wednesday, City Council will vote to amend an ordinance adopted June 20 that authorized a loan of up to $15,000 for the project to TransPortage Inc. The loan recipient’s name will be changed from TransPortage to Kent Wells Sherman House Inc.

Roger Thurman, vice president of the non-profit, said the group is anxious to finalize its purchase agreement for the lot, sign off on paperwork with the city and university, set a house-moving date and construct a new foundation on the North Water lot.

This all needs to occur before Aug. 4, the deadline agreed upon by the city and university to have the former homes on East Erie Street demolished.

“It’s a very tight time schedule so it’s very important to make this happen. To not make it happen, for the procedures to be derailed, would mean the destruction of this … very important historical structure,” Thurman said.

Joseph Hughes July 17, 2012 at 06:02 PM
Interesting to note how Concerned Kent Citizen frames both sides of this debate. Hers is smart and obviously cares about the city. Apparently those on the other side do not. Again, this speaks to the obvious demographic differences in the two groups. It's a lot easier to get things done in Kent when you belong to her side, that's for sure.
Gerald Elekes July 17, 2012 at 06:41 PM
@Concerned-- An aside, outstanding! I'm writing an article, "Anonymity & Animosity on the Internet." If you have no objection, I'd like to use your example of the dangers of using a real name. Not the exact link, professional courtesy. As if a "real name" is actually "verified," and who's in charge of that Internet quagmire-- Big Brother Google? I find the usual responses to anonymity to be pedestrian and dangerously uninformed, especially in the age of Identity Theft, cyber stalking, stalking, etc. Of course, there are exceptions pertaining to pseudonym use-- employment, etc. But I think Mark Twain and Deep Throat did OK, perhaps not so much Tricky Dick Nixon. And "citing an on-going investigation, anonymous sources said"... is media common. What I've discovered is a commenter's counterpoint is ignored, and a Red Hearing "anonymity issue" is presented to subvert discussion. It's a "throw-down" leading nowhere. A second tactic is to invoke TOS. Either a dissenting commenter "flags" a comment, or the editor (sometimes biased) publically chastises or censors a commenter. Nasty anonymous remarks excluded by default. Third is-- "You don't live in the area; You shouldn't comment!" I'm sure editors and most users of the w.w.w. might disagree. Readership and use is survival. Pulling up the rear-- "Stay on topic." Used to limit open discussion and limit interesting dialogue, no matter what direction it takes. Brilliant insight, excellent tactic. "Brimfield Born & Raised"
Frederick John Kluth July 17, 2012 at 06:42 PM
Kent does need classes and events and it is considerate that the Wells-Sherman house is planned to help with this. There are currently two organizations in the neighborhood that organizes classes and events, Standing Rock Cultural Arts(SRCA) and FJKluth Art Gallery. Neither of these organizations are able to receive any rents for these activities. It is hopeful that the FWSH will be able to change this. It should be noted that the current plans could be improved to facilitate the hosting of classes and events. The inclusion of a commercial kitchen facility would greatly improve the ability to have meetings in the area as the important of food in attracting people to events is well established. The inclusion of a full basement to the plan would provide a much bigger meeting area that would much better serve as a gallery space if art exhibits are to be included in the type of events. If a higher ceiling were included this space could also serve as a children's theater. But I have no idea how a rent could be raised for such activities since these are put on in the neighborhood for free. I am looking forward to superior events that will change all this.
Balertwine July 17, 2012 at 08:04 PM
"Concerned Kent Citizen" -- what a joke!!! Hahahahahaha!!! I am laughing and laughing over your ridiculous statement, as if you went around with a clicker and added up all the pro-move and anti-move people. Who would believe you? You know what you are? Silly!!!! Hahaha! You are so silly. "Many many people." Well, if it isn't many, many, many, many people, and only many, many people, then clearly Kent is significantly divided over this move. And you are an insulting little grub for stating "one thing they all have in common is they are all educated blah blah blah...." Oh come now, you little nerdy blogger. Did you do a survey of the educational status of the anti-move people? You, sir, are being a bit ridiculous. Silly, silly, silly, and ridiculous. Instead of being so insulting, weigh the pro's and con's of the relocation of this residential house. I think it will be a big flop, a money-loser, but hey, government welfare to pay what the private sector wouldn't risk its money on happens all the time. I don't see long lines of people bidding on this house because they want to use it for their law office, in other words. And if it's such a sound investment, why does FSWH need Kent City Council's money?
Tina Puckett July 17, 2012 at 08:26 PM
These haven't been brought up for a while and there are some new ones. Here we have a list of the community’s questions as culled together from comments in various forums. Many of us feel that these are questions to which the Council, the City Manager, and the community should all be seeking answers given the public funding and public interest of this project. We have been unable to receive answers from Kent Wells Sherman House Inc. to these or similarly worded questions on Patch, via email, or in individual conversations between community members and representatives of the KWSHI board. What funding is secured to insure that this project will be a success at the expense, as well as in light of the costly destruction of the environmental gardens that have been tended organically for as long as 20 years in this location (depending on the garden plot)? How will moving the few lawyers from downtown and putting in a rental space in the bottom floor of the house going to revitalize North Water Street or bring in money when it’s introducing no new business to the area and the rental spaces will benefit the house rather than the city or community?
Tina Puckett July 17, 2012 at 08:30 PM
There have been several ideas indicated about what will be planned for this house since the restoration effort came to light (from rental house to community center to office spaces to a nonprofit center and now centered on the idea of being lawyers’ offices and growing an arts community with an open public space). Is there an idea settled upon about the use of the house and how is it and the implementation of its use envisioned? Community has questioned whether this “public space” is truly public as a free commodity or if there are rental fees for the “public space.” How would you be able to clarify this public use? How much capacity for an audience will the bottom of the house hold for the plays, movies, and concerts that you’ve mentioned can be held in the house and what kind of plays, movie showings, and concerts are expected to be incorporated into this plan? Will the structure meet the appropriate fire and safety capacities and exits in order to hold such a capacity so as to avoid another neighborhood fire?
Tina Puckett July 17, 2012 at 08:32 PM
Is the amount of money to be borrowed and invested (almost $200,000 anticipated and an additional $100,000 for final phase) worth what appears to be for the interest of a select population of the community or a few individuals’ stake and interest? How can this be expanded to the general population of Kent in a way that is meaningful to the majority of the citizens? How can it be expanded to a population that places more value in the space’s current uses in the open air and current natural, environmental setting? What should help them feel the investment in this project should be greater than their investment in the current green space? (Is the KWSHI response fair and unbiased?) How will the renovated house, which is preparing to remove sustainable green space and which is expected to decimate or potentially cause damage or death to thriving organic gardens be heated (fossil fuels, solar panels, etc)? What will be done to reduce electricity use, which also drains on natural resources? Is there any revision to the finalized layout for the interior of the house and have rental fees of the spaces been established yet?
Joseph Hughes July 17, 2012 at 08:35 PM
Ease up on the questions, Tina, you're not giving the highly educated opposition enough time to properly scour Google Image Search for pictures of crying babies.
Tina Puckett July 17, 2012 at 08:35 PM
Those speaking in support of the project indicate that this property can be used by the community and its neighbors, such as SRCA for arts programming. Will this use be fee-based to its neighbors or is there an offer on the table for free use of the space by the community and/or neighboring businesses and organizations? If it is fee-based, why is this detail omitted when the benefit is mentioned? This is an important detail for transparency and non-misleading purposes. It is possible that neighboring organizations won’t need or seek its use. It’s important to note that SRCA would not support the destruction of green space even if the use is free but the point still seems important for clarification. If there is an offer available for free use of the space, what does it entail? Who will staff art exhibits? Will this be paid staffing or volunteer? What kind of insurance will cover the protection of the artwork? Are public restrooms still planned and what hours will they be open? Will the building be staffed during those hours if so? What parking will be available for this project? Is this parking at a fee to the public? Is there a charge for the parking spaces to anyone related to the restoration project and/or Kent Wells Sherman House Inc. or TransPortage nonprofits? What is that agreement?
Tina Puckett July 17, 2012 at 08:38 PM
What classes and events will be held in the lower level? Will these be free to the community or based upon rental agreements and contracted instructors? What will be the fees paid to instructors if these are based on contracts and agreements? What will be the fees to the community? What kind of museum will be held in the capacity of space in this house? Who will staff the museum? What has become of suggestions made by members of the art community (not SRCA but another member) about the building renovation needs for the planned arts activities? (See attached suggestions.) Why were these referred to as “demands” by one of the KWSHI board members when recently speaking to an interviewer at an event held in the current green space? What was the statement “We will not respond to demands” by the KWSHI board member to mean for this space that is to be open for use by the public and for the benefit of the public? What is the currently planned handicap access? Is it feasible? Are you aware of the many public uses of the space to this date? Are you aware of the wildlife and native plants in the gardens?
Tina Puckett July 17, 2012 at 08:40 PM
KWSHI has indicated an earnest belief that this structure will not harm SRCA’s mission. How does KWSHI feel it can prevent inhibiting SRCA’s mission in regards to sustainability and use of the natural elements in the community in cultural arts programming as stated as a point of SRCA’s mission statement in the initial filing of SRCA’s nonprofit status and continuing in the mission statement today? On a related note, what will be done to allow for the natural light entering the south-facing window of the gallery, which allows for natural light sources and illumination of the gallery art. What will be done to allow for the solar panels and planned addition of more solar panels in the future to further benefit SRCA by saving utility expenses and environmental stress on natural resources?
Tina Puckett July 17, 2012 at 08:42 PM
How did KWSHI determine that space is needed for the arts programming that happens in the green space as determined by multiple offers for use of space in the first floor of the house? This is being listed as a benefit but at what cost to the aesthetic nature of the events since these are not planned due to space limitations in SRCA’s current location but are deliberately planned in the open air on natural land for aesthetic purposes? An example of this in another setting is that SRCA and DICE could get a theater (even locally the Kent Stage is a venue with a movie screen) to show Sidewalk Cinema, but the event is held outdoors for natural and fun appeal while bringing community members and others to downtown for economic sustainability. No one seems to find the outdoors movie in open air odd or think that its due to lack of shelter and space. How much money will be needed to bring this house to code? Where is that funding guaranteed? Will the renovations ever truly allow the home to be registered as a historical home in the state of Ohio following the modern updates that have gone into it while it was a boarding house, the move from its original foundation twice, and the reportedly scarce original components that are still within the structure according to experts who have examined the house? How will maintenance, upkeep, and long term restoration be assuredly financed?
Tina Puckett July 17, 2012 at 08:44 PM
Will the renovations ever truly allow the home to be registered as a historical home in the state of Ohio following the modern updates that have gone into it while it was a boarding house, the move from its original foundation twice, and the reportedly scarce original components that are still within the structure according to experts who have examined the house? How will maintenance, upkeep, and long term restoration be assuredly financed? Public outcry seems to have resulted in revision of the originally intended plans for the 247 N Water St property. Now that KWSHI is aware of many of the current uses, is any consideration being given to joining in a cooperative effort to locate a vacant property or space from the City or University in order to create a win-win situation for all involved? Why has transparency about any of the plans to use the North Water Street location for the relocation been an issue, particularly before council initially approved a loan at which point in time, general information and a budget first appeared publicly in the Kent Patch following public and media requests for more transparency? Why does transparency still seem to be an issue with the community and how can this be resolved within the community of Kent? How did TransPortage’s name become attached to the project initially when some of the directors, board members, and co-founders opposed?
Tina Puckett July 17, 2012 at 08:45 PM
Why is TransPortage still involved with presentations (as late as July 17, 2012) on behalf of the restoration project after director(s), board members, and co-founders opposed the project as it is currently planned? How can you explain why the Transportage membership and all of the directors were not informed prior to press coverage on the matter? Was TransPortage’s name attached to the plan merely to obtain the funding support behind the project for a few members’ interests? If not, how can you explain its attachment prior to the officers being notified and in agreement? How will the funds on lend from the city to TransPortage be transferred to a different non-profit than intended? Was the purchase agreement for the property made with TransPortage, an individual, or a combination of both? If two organizations that support sustainability have offered resistance to a project like this and various sectors, groups, and individuals in the community are speaking out against it for a variety of reasons (interest in children’s enrichment that takes place there, environmental/sustainable, financial, ethical, community interest, beautification/neighborhood interest, etc., both related and unrelated to SRCA), should the plan as it is currently planned and individual interest versus community interest be rethought? Is the majority (or even half) of the money that is realistically needed securely committed and ready to support this project?
Tina Puckett July 17, 2012 at 08:47 PM
Why have some sizeable figures been missing from the budget or listed as “not known” when published in the media? How will KWSHI deal with this if the expense is more than expected? How do you balance the value that historians, experts, and enthusiasts place in this particular structure given the level of investment, particularly in light of public loans? Why won’t KWSHI answer the community’s questions? Why are they relying on a spokesperson of SRCA to forward answers when representatives from KWSHI’s board have questioned that spokesperson’s and the SRCA board’s competence? This is important since such a thing could easily and certainly be turned into a he said/she said issue in the media if the SRCA spokesperson is expected to speak for the KWSHI board to the community, could it not? Wouldn’t it be possible to meet with at least some representatives from other concerned organizations and the community to answer questions without need for rental of an auditorium to do so in light of the community’s more frequent involvement with this land as opposed to most properties in other routine developments in the city? Why hasn’t KWSHI answered the community’s questions?
Lisa Regula Meyer July 17, 2012 at 09:14 PM
Don't expect any answers to community questions, Tina. What do you think this is, a community project or something?
Casey Myers July 17, 2012 at 09:45 PM
@Concerned Kent Citizen, "For decades that lot housed a house"? And for hundreds of years before that it housed trees and plants. What matters is that right NOW there is a vibrant community connected by that garden. The plans to move the Wells Sherman House to this location not only disregard the shared values and activities of an entire community of people, but also are not being executed with transparency or, quite frankly, a solid plan for sustainability. For a city to loan money to a makeshift organization (with numerous city council connections) assuming that they'll just work out the kinks later is plain bad governance. Whether or not a house used to be there isn't really the point.
Balertwine July 17, 2012 at 10:11 PM
Hello Concerned, No, I don't think so. It's such a small house! Sure, if you go in the basement you'll see the main beam was a tree, not six 2 x 10's nailed together, not an iron I-beam, but big deal. There's plenty of old barns around with floor beams like that, and no one's going in the basement of this house -- it's not a house in a park that people will be touring. And if you somehow looked in the walls and attic you'd see the old-fashioned barn-like beam construction, but again, 90% of that's invisible. So, you've got some, and only some, of the original 1855 woodwork in the house. It was moved in 1924 so much is not original. I say, why risk financial collapse for this house when it could be located on campus or in a Kent park? I can't see the upstairs providing enough rental income to pay the costs. FSWH is trying to lure support by saying the 1st floor will be available to the community, but I don't see that happening with financial success. FSWH won't be around for 50 years to guarantee through fundraising etc.support for this house! What you have here is an old house that is a curiosity to fans of history and architects. KSU cares so much that they don't want it on campus. The Kent Parks Dept is so thrilled that they say they don't want it in a park. Both are saying "Sure, we can throw some free government money in your direction, it's not coming out of our pockets anyways, so just get it outta here before the govt bulldozers arrive."
Tina Puckett July 17, 2012 at 11:00 PM
I forgot a few more that were emailed back following a response to a small portion of the questions. Although the offer for SRCA to tend the green space in a plan revision is an overture that we can appreciate, which is quite beneficial to FWSH as well, this offer does not explain what funding is secured to insure the project, which was the question to which you were offering a response. (so this question remains from previously). We are also curious as to which organizations have complained about a lack of meeting space downtown. Have they checked into the already existing free meeting places in town that have been referenced in Patch comments? How much are these organizations willing to pay to use the proposed space? If these individuals and organizations are already holding meetings in Kent and are willing to pay for space to meet, wouldn’t they most likely already patronize the local businesses? Is the community that the house is meant to remind and represent being taken into consideration given the dissension that has been voiced by community members, including some of those who typically support historical restoration projects? Moreover, it seems that the rental fees for the spaces in the house will need to be highly-priced in order to make the amount of income that is hoped to be generated to sustain this project. Then is it likely that the community will rent the space at high prices, especially with free meeting places already existing in the area?
Tina Puckett July 17, 2012 at 11:02 PM
I was able to review the most recent plan that was sent to our Executive Director, Jeff Ingram, but I noticed that it appears gas and electric utilities are planned and you mentioned that sustainable measures will hopefully be used instead so this is another concern when planning to relocate to a sustainable location. I know you answered a version of this question, but I should have worded it more accurately. Why haven’t those speaking in support of the project indicated in the media (when commenting that space will be available to SRCA and others as a point and benefit), that this will be fee-based to these neighbors as well (which matters in regards to transparency and non-misleading purposes)? The point of this question is that FWSH supporters have routinely referenced this as a benefit and made it sound as if it will be provided free of charge to its neighbors when that is not truly the case, although I do need to clarify that SRCA would still not be in support of the destruction of green space regardless. (so this question remains from previously).
Tina Puckett July 17, 2012 at 11:03 PM
As a board member and especially in a newly-filed nonprofit organization without any track record, I would think the board members and officers would really want to be aware of what kind of expenditures would be needed for such a large investment and subsequent debt. Mr. Rick Hawksley is not listed on the board from what you mentioned in an email to SRCA previously. Are you truly relying on a source (and a contractor besides) outside of your board to stipulate the budget, funds, expenditures, and income needed for your new organization? In regards to the ability to list the home on the National Register of Historic Places, have the professors whom your group has consulted been made aware that not only was the house moved twice but that much of it was updated and little original remains aside from some of the beams, the window structures, and an exterior that’s been covered for years? Have they seen the house’s current updates and condition of the original components to know if it truly can be listed? Has anyone from the register been consulted? The rent, endowment, and grant monies that you’ve proposed for maintenance, upkeep, and long term restoration seem to be hoped-for but are they financially committed? Where are the actual renters with the amounts of rent payments to be decided, endowments, and grant monies going to materialize?
Tina Puckett July 17, 2012 at 11:05 PM
Are any of these in place currently or just supposed due to group enthusiasm, which unfortunately does not often result in support? As far as financing, I understand that you are setting up accounts but is the majority or even half of the money realistically needed secured and ready to support this project, at least on a theoretical (will be in the bank once the accounts are established) basis? A bank account, in and of itself, will not mean the funds are available of course so this is my reason for asking clarification. Also in regards to budgeting, a $200,000 budget every year as you mentioned in relation to your church is actually quite large. Most nonprofits do not see nor expect anywhere near a $200,000 budget per year without an endowment, which I understand the group is hopeful for but it does not seem this has been attained yet so at this time, only the volunteerism aspect that you mentioned regarding your church would be pertinent to the current FWSH funding or support capabilities. Is your board considering salaries as well like the church? In regards to the missing figures in your current budget, you stated that “you can’t always know the cost of certain things” but have “a feel for what will need to be done and go from there.” This is a concern because while it’s hopeful and desired that the expenses will be less, it could be more than anticipated and require additional funding.
Tina Puckett July 17, 2012 at 11:06 PM
As for the value that experts and enthusiasts place in the restoration of this particular structure given the level of investment, particularly in light of public loans . . . Have there been individuals who have reviewed this without keying in on an emotional attachment to the Kent family connection, which seems to be the primary reason for this preservation project at an inordinate amount of funding? Understandably, this is much of the value but an organization should be ready to review its hefty expenses and the value of a project without too much attachment to personal reflex, especially if a community is voicing concern. I do appreciate that you offered some of my answers. I would ask which people should the community ask to answer their other unanswered questions. (These questions remain unanswered but a meeting was offered.)
Tina Puckett July 17, 2012 at 11:09 PM
The meeting invite was followed by a letter asking how we can discuss removal of the plants and solar panels.
Tina Puckett July 17, 2012 at 11:19 PM
Just thought the taxpayers should be aware of all of the unanswered questions that they are about to be funding regardless of whether they support the house preservation, the green space, both, or neither.
The Omnipotent Sponge - Soak it up! July 18, 2012 at 01:55 AM
Almost as readable as a Dr. Bronner's label...
John Jacobs July 18, 2012 at 07:35 PM
Yeah...let's spend funds to move an old house that someone slept in.......but accept the fact that our neighborhoods where people own their homes and pay taxes are being over run by ghetto trash from Cleveland and Akron.....another shooting in Silver Meadows....and you people are worried about an old house......
Paxton Crenshaw July 18, 2012 at 07:49 PM
i'm more worried about living near someone like you john, who considers people of low economic standing "trash" and "animals" (i read your other posts). if you were to move into my neighborhood, your attitude would bring my property value down way further than any section 8 subsidized family ever could.
John Jacobs July 18, 2012 at 08:40 PM
Try again Paxton....I would venture a guess ( since you are so good at judging character)....that your a very liberal person who can afford a residence in a "good" part of town who approves of section 8 housing...as long as it isn't near you......my point is.....why import trouble that the taxpaying citizens of Kent has to pay for......why is the poorest community in Portage County putting an even larger strain on the taxpayers by importing low income people into our city???? Why is City Council allowing it??? I hear Hudson has some vacated property and their school system rates excellent....but Paxton......if I moved into your neighborhood, I'm sure my special needs child would bother you...and just the fact that I deliver newspapers as a side job to pay for speech and OT therapy would bring your property values down...your right I wouldn't want to throw your nice tranquil crime free neighborhood into chaos...you are better off with a poverty stricken liberal from Cleveland as your next door neighbor...in fact...I hope you get your wish.....
David Badagnani August 20, 2012 at 10:43 PM
Why are there many commenters discussing posts by a user named "Concerned Kent Citizen," but I cannot find a single instance of a comment by that user name? That is very confusing.

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