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Residents Make Last Stand Against New Apartments, Overlay District

South Lincoln, High street residents oppose overlay district plan for 596-bed apartment complex dubbed 'The Province at Kent'

South Lincoln and High street residents tried one last time to stop an overlay district from coming to their neighborhoods — and bringing a 596-bed student apartment complex with it.

Residents packed Kent City Council chambers Wednesday night and pleaded with council members to reject that would rezone about 10 acres of land east of South Lincoln Street and just south of Summit Street.

Council members unanimously approved the overlay district, which paves the way for Edwards Communities Development Co. to build the complex.

Dave Tyndall, vice president of engineering for Edwards Communities, said they plan to start demolition and break ground immediately after they finish buying all the properties needed for the project.

"We hope to start in July," Tyndall said. "Our plan is to finish for occupancy in about one year. We're looking forward to the project."

Residents of the surrounding neighborhoods are not.

Neighbors of the forthcoming apartment complex packed council chambers — as they have several times while the project was discussed in the past nine months — to express the same concerns with anticipated increases in car and foot traffic and expected decreases in property values.

This time, the big concern expressed was that many residents felt council members were ignoring the 88 people who signed a petition opposing the overlay district.

"It’s indescribable how disappointed I feel," High Street resident Joyce Harris said. "I was naïve enough in the beginning to think that voicing my concerns would actually make a difference. Now I think everything that I’ve said and everything that my neighbors have said has meant nothing” to council.

Residents criticized council for bypassing Kent's regulations for zoning code review, and they called the overlay district "spot zoning."

Larry Andrews gave an impassioned plea before the council vote urging them to heed the residents' voices and "quite simply, to save our neighborhood."

Council members responded to the allegations of ignoring the residents during Wednesday night's open comment period, which came at the end of the meeting after most of the concerned residents left.

"I‘ll be the first to lay down in front of the bulldozers if this company does not live up to its agreements," Ward 5 Councilwoman Heidi Shaffer said. "I’m saddened that people feel that we haven’t listened to them. Listening doesn’t necessarily mean that we decide to go along with what they want."

Councilman John Kuhar said the Edwards Communities project is a better, more thought out project than a similar complex being planned for the existing on Rhodes Road.

"All I ever dream about is people showing up at council and speaking their peace," he said. "And when they do do that, and you can’t in good conscience agree with them, it’s hard."

At-large councilman Robin Turner said the decision was the best council could make, and now they must stay involved to ensure the new apartment complex does not become a detriment to the neighborhood.

"There are things we have to do now to reach out to that community and let them know we’re concerned about their future," Turner said. "That’s working with the Edwards company, that’s working with the people who live there."

The process that culminated with Wednesday night's approval of the overlay district came about nine months after Edwards Communities initially asked the city to rezone the project site to University District — a much less strict portion of city zoning code with no density cap for residential complexes.

Residents adamantly opposed the University District zoning request, and Edwards Communities came back with a request to change the project site from R-3 zoning to a more dense R-4 zoning. Again, residents spoke out against the higher density, and the developer asked for a delay to review the issue.

The company came back with to create a compromise between the R-3 and R-4 zoning, which again was opposed by residents. Then, in early April the Kent Planning Commission approved .

All this took place through more than a half dozen public meetings that included testimony from Peter Edwards, chairman of the development company, members of Kent city staff talking about traffic and other city service demand increases, and dozens of residents.

Kent attorney Dave Williams, representing Edwards Communities, defended council members for having taken the time and thoughtfully considered the issue.

"You hear spot zoning," Williams said. "You hear that you’re rushing to judgment on zoning matters … and that the concerns of the citizens are not being heard. I don’t think anything could be farther from the truth."

He said city staff members, council representatives and members of Kent's other boards and commissions have been reviewing the city's zoning code for the past 10 years. He pointed to changes and improvements made to the code in the past few years as proof. And he said both the developer and city officials responded to residents' voices by changing their zoning proposals for the project.

"People have had nine months of public hearings to talk," he said.

Still, residents felt the apartment complex is not a good fit for the neighborhood.

"We are not a neighborhood who’s against development," Cassandra Pegg-Kirby said. "We’re a neighborhood against rash decision making based on an apparent need that has not been backed up or conveyed.

"If we are the sacrificial lamb you’re willing to turn into a college ghetto, then tell it what it is," she said. "Put the housing here and you will see people leave and take their tax money to a community that is willing to support them."

In one final attempt to appease residents, council members voted Wednesday to potentially force multi-family apartment complex owners to have on-site security staff. Council agreed to put the idea of mandating on-site security on their to-do list and discuss it at a future council meeting.

"I think this would also alleviate a lot of residents concerns about things getting out of hand,” Councilwoman Tracy Wallach said.

zSusan Black May 19, 2011 at 12:28 PM
Follow the money... Talking to an empty room instead of your constituents is cowardly.
Morningglory May 19, 2011 at 01:49 PM
I'm still waiting to hear what their solution will be for the middle of the night "disruptive" foot traffic. I have lost track of how many times I have called this problem to their attention, and still no response. Could it be that there will be no solution -- and I'll learn to get by on a couple of hours of sleep a night?!!!!! Security Guards at the facility will surely help to keep things quiet at the complex, but that doesn't help with the commotion in the surrounding areas.
James Thomas May 19, 2011 at 02:47 PM
Oh my, Time to revise some of the long held shiboleths concerning politicians. After nine months of deliberations, countless discussions involving all sides of the issue, considering the individual picture and the "big" picture, an elected body has arrived at an unanimous decision that has unpopular sides to it. That's what they were elected to do. That's what you want your elected officials to do. The politician's answer for citizen concerns is almost always yes, but in this case it is no. " No" does exist and must be exercised when the evidence supports it and judgement of reasonable people determines that it is proper and the best course of action. "Put the housing here and you will see people leave and take their tax money to a community that is willing to support them." That is your right. If it is now the only acceptable option open to you, take it.
Amy Soyars May 19, 2011 at 04:13 PM
James, the city does have a "big picture" plan. It is the Bicentennial Plan. It took at least 2 years to develop. The plan itself states it is to guide Kent for the next 50+ years.The goal being long term . Kent is divided into districts with goals for development in each one. This apartment complex will be in the Franklin District. It's goals are to : Protect neighborhoods. Create a quiet, clean community with effective code enforcement. Encourage University housing to be less invasive in neighborhoods It does appear that Council is going in the opposite direction of a plan THEY helped create and adopted. The Bicentennial Plan does have areas already zoned for the type of project proposed. Great project, wrong area.
James Thomas May 19, 2011 at 05:00 PM
Amy Soyars, I have briefly scanned the Kent Bicentennial Plan, developed in 2004, and it is an admirable document. It is a framework for further action. The fact that this new project was approved unanimously indicates to me that the ideals put forward in 2004 may not have practical application in the economic realities of 2011. It seems as if the Council is responding to the world as it is forcing them see it and acting in the best way that can actually be achieved. Lofty goals not met? Sometimes they can't be. I credit the Council with giving their best efforts as comprehensively as they can. The "Big Picture" realities of 2011 may not be the same ones of 2004.
Lisa Froning May 19, 2011 at 05:35 PM
My family and I live on South Lincoln. Our house used to be a rental property for college students. When we bought and moved into our house, the neighbors were relieved and glad to see the college students go, along with their loud parties, garbage in the yard, and poor maintenance to the house. I work with college students and know not all are the same, but most (including myself at that age) don't respect rental property as if it were their own. I am worried about how this development will affect the neighborhood.
Amy Soyars May 19, 2011 at 05:35 PM
The economic realities are not the same, I agree. That being said, the Bicentennial Plan was meant as long term, sustainable development. It is very clearly stated in the document itself. As a homeowner it concerns me that Council will not adhere to their own plan. What keeps Council from using this Overlay in other areas? Other neighborhoods? My neighborhood. Or yours. 63% of Kent are rental units. As a homeowner I want my interests protected as well. (Only 37% of Kent are homeowners) Council took one area and changed the zoning because the current one was not profitable enough for the developer. Looks suspiciously like spot zoning. The limit on the number of beds is 600. Edwards plans to build 596. I know there is other high density housing such as Eagles Nest. They were grandfathered in when the zoning was approved many years ago. This parcel of land is surrounded by R-3. A zoning change isn't necessarily a bad thing, unless it is done for the profit of one. Check out destinationKent.com . The City advertises this program as award winnning. As a reason people will want to make Kent their home. Sort of a bitter pill to swallow. I too think City Council works very hard, in fact,I have a lot of resect for most of the Council members. Even more for the Planning Commission. Decisions will not always be easy.
Robin Anderson May 19, 2011 at 07:45 PM
Wow! You got me digging out my dictionary with "shibboleth", James! How's about, "Build it and they will come.", back at ya, re the millions of dollars the University has spent building it's Esplanade? No "meandering" there, eh? I mean, it could just as easily have been directed toward the acres of uninhabited land situated on either side of Summit Street or Rt 59 in order to facilitate all the green traffic generated by any future student housing, don't ya know.
Chris (Kit) Myers May 19, 2011 at 10:27 PM
Overlay district! What kind of crap is that? It is an easy way to duck a zoning change. I feel very sorry for the current residents of the area. It is a precedent and noone in the city is safe.
Morningglory May 20, 2011 at 12:38 PM
Chris, where there's money to be made, the neighborhoods will be subjected to "what is good for the Kent Community". Couldn't build in R-3, couldn't get it rezoned for R-4 -- so . . . . . they just kept at it until they got what they wanted by approving the overlay plan!
Robin Anderson May 20, 2011 at 04:50 PM
Hmmm...I don't suppose you'd be interested in some of those video cameras like the ones that's been in the news over at the new student aparments on St. Rt. 59?? You know, the ones that show all the goings-on after the fact?
Pat May 21, 2011 at 01:45 AM
Our council needs all to be booted out of office. All of them are tucked away in River Bend or the West Side of Kent, no students destroying their property. I can't believe council was once again swayed by money and who cares about the residents or the tax payers. I do believe we all paying either salaries and this is how they treat us. I can see why so many are moving from Kent or moving into apartments so they don't have to pay property taxes as we all are seeing the city doing what ever they please.[
Jon Ridinger May 21, 2011 at 05:53 PM
Not sure what you mean here. First, each ward in Kent has a representative who lives in that ward, so yes, there IS at least one person on council who lives in the area. This development is in Ward 5. There are also 3 at-large council members who represent the entire city (in theory at least). If a specific neighborhood feels they are neglected, get people to run for council as a ward rep and at-large. Next, each council member makes a whopping salary of about $6,000/year in his or her role on council. Yes, six thousand dollars per year. It's part-time work in addition to the full-time careers that they hold. "So many moving from Kent"? You did see the latest census, right? The city is growing, not shrinking, and so is KSU. Also, while renters do not pay property taxes directly, they most definitely pay them through rent. If property taxes go up, rent goes up. The Beacon Journal article stated that this development will create approximately $250,000/year in revenue for the schools and $40,000/year for the city. You can bet that had a large impact on why it was approved. Council also does not want Kent to gain a reputation for being overly hostile towards private investment. Also, it should come as no surprise that the area immediately adjacent to campus is attractive to developers for apartments. The closer to campus, the easier to market (and for residents to save money on transportation!).
Morningglory May 21, 2011 at 07:14 PM
Not everybody in Ward 5 (including Council Member) will feel the impact of an additional 596 students living in the neighborhood. My main concern has been and still is the foot traffic travelling to and from the bars in the middle of the night. My pleas to the Council to come up with a solution have not been addressed. The $40,00 the City will receive might cover the cost of one more policeman who could be solely responsible for keeping peace. Unless you have experienced being awakened numerous times during the night, you can't appreciate the anxiety this has created The disruption happens and by the time the police arrive, they have moved on. Only to have it happen again, and again!
Amy Soyars May 21, 2011 at 11:57 PM
John, Kent did grow by 1% this last year. Kent State also grew. The problem is that you're looking at one year. We have almost the same number of people living in Kent as we did in 2000. Some years it has gone up, some is has decreased. Same with the University. One years growth does not show a trend.
Jon Ridinger May 22, 2011 at 01:31 AM
The Census is a snapshot of 1 year out of 10. Regardless of how big or small it has changed since 2000, it negates your statement that tons of people are "leaving" Kent. Remember too KSU is about to start more construction and virtually none of the downtown developments have been built yet, so there is definitely a growing trend at the moment. By 2020, Kent could see an even larger increase if things continue as is. The fact remains that right now Kent *is* growing and the university's enrollment has increased significantly both at the regionals and in Kent the last few years (not just one year). We'll see how much that stays if the economy improves. But remember too, developers want their project to succeed; it's why they develop. They don't build complexes like this because they like to build buildings, they build them because they see business potential based on information they have about the market. If there wasn't a market for these, no developer would sink millions into building them. On top of that, everyone is assuming that all residents will be the same type of students as live in the rental houses in the same neighborhood. I'd have to see the total layout of this development, but it seems to be a much more contained environment than many of the other complexes around it. Don't forget too that Allerton is being phased out in the next few years.
Jon Ridinger May 22, 2011 at 02:07 AM
And to clarify, my comments are more to refute the idea that there is "no market" for this, not to put my support either way for the project (yea or nay). I have seen virtually nothing of the site plans other than the one rendering to know how much I like or dislike the project itself. But in terms of a market, again, a private developer doesn't usually just jump in with little information before investing millions in a project like this. They study the area, demographics, trends, etc. (they did mention consulting the university and seeing plans) to make sure the risk is reasonable. Doesn't mean it always works out, of course, but that's not to say they're going into it blindly or don't know what the occupancy rate is in Kent or how many rentals do exist here.
Ron Keller May 23, 2011 at 01:55 PM
"Listening to the people does not necessarily mean that we should do what they want"?
Morningglory May 23, 2011 at 08:59 PM
Nobody is obligated to do anything . . . however, it is expected that our Council listen and make suggestions. I'm stuck on "The Foot Traffic" problem that has yet to be addressed! Guess I had better accept that the problem belongs to the residents. The people that represent us don't seem to care about our quality of life!
Kelly Ferry May 23, 2011 at 10:26 PM
As a property owner on Vine with the as yet unplanned "open space" directly behind me, and the nightly annoyance of being awakened by loud drunk people cutting through my yard to get from downtown to Lincoln, my only recourse is to spend money I don't have on a fence. The possibility of nearly 600 more students happily enjoying the proximity of downtown by traveling there on foot - then back again at much louder volume, drunkenly, stopping to urinate under my bedroom window (happens OFTEN) makes me dread this project's completion. Time to start saving for that fence now. A fence won't stop them from coming up our driveway expecting to get through at 3am and then playing on our swing set or riding our kids' zip line again. That's always fun to wake up to in the middle of the night on a work day. Perhaps a motion sensor that trips a recording of a shotgun being loaded, and Cujo about to attack. I'm trying very hard to imagine the possible positive results of this development. As a resident of Kent, I of course want to see our new business district thrive. But, the city's decision puts a very unpleasant situation not only in a whole neighborhood's back yard, but also in our front yard and side yard and sometimes even on our swing sets. Call the police, they're gone. And a new group arrives 30 min. later. Just deal with it. Yet, we're not allowed to keep a couple of laying hens because some council members say their neighbors don't want that in their back yard? Must be nice.
Morningglory May 24, 2011 at 12:25 PM
Love the idea of a motion sensor! Maybe The City will provide them to us with some of the $40,000 they are going to receive or Edwards Development can plan on that expense as they plan to work with the neighborhood. A barking Cujo would be better than the foul language that jolts me out of a deep sleep. Hey, here's another idea -- a panic button that would alert everyone involved in approving this plan. It's the only way they can get a taste of what happens in the middle of the night. It feels good to do a little venting, however, nothing helps when the yelling and screaming are actually happening. For a full semester a couple of years ago, I listened to a guy cry every time he had a little too much to drink. And, no, I didn't feel like comforting him -- wonder what happened to him!
den brown October 02, 2011 at 11:52 PM
Living in Kent is great . To all who think they they were the first to live there keep in mind the first to live there made it possible for you to live there. Wake up, if you want to control your surroundings buy the property.

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