The demolition-threatened historic Kent Wells Sherman House is safe — at least through Dec. 1 — as has agreed to temporarily house it on a scrap of College Avenue land it acquired last year during a swap with the city.
Roger Thurman, vice president of the non-profit Kent Wells Sherman House Inc. board, said the temporary location is “good news for the house, but it’s not good news for us. It’s yet another complication, another detour for the house.”
The 1858 Greek Revival-style house with ties to the Kent family and other early prominent citizens can be stored on the lot through Dec. 1, said Kent State spokesperson Emily Vincent.
The house relocation from its present spot on East Erie Street is necessary for construction of , a Kent State-led project designed to create a pedestrian link between campus and downtown Kent.
The university’s decision to “loan out” the land was made last Friday, after the Kent Planning Commission rejected for which it has a purchase agreement with the private landowner.
Many were surprised by the planning commission’s decision as the Kent Board of Zoning Appeals just one day prior had unanimously approved three variances that would have allowed the historic structure to be moved onto the North Water Street parcel. The project also had been recommended for approval by city planning staff members.
“The context of the North Water site is perfect, and we don’t think we’ve done anything wrong in trying to put it there,” Thurman said this week.
Had the commission approved the site plan, the house could have been moved to North Water prior to the Aug. 4 deadline agreed upon by the university and city for the East Erie Street houses to be demolished.
During a Kent City Council meeting last week, City Manager Dave Ruller announced that the demo deadline had been extended to Aug. 11 – but even that extension won’t prevent the KWSH group from having to move the house twice.
The group had filed a request to appeal the planning commission’s decision to the zoning board during its Aug. 20 meeting. Eric Fink, the city’s assistant law director, said late Thursday he had issued a ruling that the appeal request is the wrong route to take.
According to city law, he explained, the zoning board can only consider appeals of decisions made by the zoning inspector or the planning commission for the issuance of zoning certificates or conditional zoning certificates.
“Before the planning commission was a site plan review, which does not result in the issuance of either type of certificate,” Fink said. “The planning commission has the ultimate authority when it comes to site plans.”
That leaves the KWSH group only two options to continue pursuing the North Water parcel: file suit in Portage County Common Pleas Court, or file a new site plan with the planning commission. For the latter choice, Fink said, city law “requires that it be a substantially different (site) plan or that there be newly discovered evidence.”
Thurman said the KWSH board does not want to go to court. “Filing suit is expensive and time consuming. It’s a last-resort option that we would very much like to avoid,” he explained.
It’s too late for the group to file a new site plan for the planning commission’s Aug. 7 agenda, but there is time to meet the filing deadline for its Aug. 21 meeting.
While formulating their next course of action, the group also is making plans to get the house moved about 100 yards to the small right-of-way parcel located where College Street dead-ends into Haymaker Parkway, just east of South DePeyster Street.
“We met with the mover (Tuesday) and he’s ready to go. We’ll get it out of the way by (Aug. 11),” Thurman said. “The house is strong and stable and easy for the mover to move. It’s not a junky house. It's endured for a long time and when it’s restored it will be an asset to the community.”
Thurman said he encourages people to visit the new KWSH website, which includes project updates, a history of the house and the list of alternative sites that were considered for the historic home before the North Water parcel was chosen.