After months of debate, members of the non-profit Kent Wells Sherman House Inc. have the OK to move a historic house with ties to the city's namesake family to the lot at 247 N. Water St.
The Kent Planning Commission voted 3-2 Tuesday to approve a site plan for the lot that situates the house 13.5 feet back from the sidewalk. The lot is the green space between the gallery and the building downtown.
The issue has appeared before several of the city's citizen planning boards in recent months as members of the non-profit worked to save it from demolition. The house had to be to make way for , which saw the
The relocation plan has proven controversial because the green space at 247 N. Water St. has been used and maintained for about 20 years by members of SRCA with permission of the landowner.
Roger Thurman, vice president of the Kent Wells-Sherman House board, said the group pledges to be good neighbors to SRCA by making the house and lot available to the arts group.
"We’re going to be the best neighbors possible to Standing Rock because they’re really good people in that organization," he said.
Thurman said they have a purchase agreement with the landowner, Arthur Properties Management LLC, to buy the land for $20,000.
The non-profit group can essentially start prepping the site and move the house once they have ownership, the necessary permits are isssued and moving arrangements — such as temporarily moving utilities and traffic signals — are made.
When asked about future collaboration, Standing Rock Cultural Arts Director Jeff Ingram said after the meeting he plans to try and find another location for the house while preparations are made for its move.
"It's not over," Ingram said.
University officials have said the house must be moved from its temporary location on East College Avenue by Dec. 1 or it will be razed.
Kent Planning Engineer Jennifer Barone said the group could always return to the planning commission if another location is deemed suitable.
A close vote
The site plan for North Water Street passed by one vote. Planning commission members Gregory Balbierz, Anthony Catalano and Melissa Long voted to approve the site plan. Members Peter Paino and John Gargan voted against approving the site plan.
In casting their votes, members of the planning commission tried to carefully articulate their reasoning. Although even Paino conceded the house's planned use as commercial and public space is a legally permitted use in the city's commercial downtown district.
Paino said that while he had to adhere to city code requirements in making his decision he also had to consider public input.
"Which was a compelling argument to keep the green space, and reasons why," Paino said. "I would really like to see this building put on another lot."
Catalano said his decision was based primarily on the fact the house is a permitted use on the lot within the downtown zoning district.
"This is a final vote on this motion," Catalano said.
The planning commission that set the house 15 feet back from the sidewalk. So members of the Kent Wells Sherman House board to propose setting the house 16 inches back from the sidewalk in order to present the issue to the commission again for consideration.
A divisive issue
Excluding Thurman, 19 people spoke to the planning commission about the site plan proposal Tuesday night. Three of those who spoke supported moving the house to the North Water Street site while the remaining 16 favored keeping the green space whole.
Balbierz said that, despite the overwhelming public opposition, the Kent community appeared split evenly over the issue.
"One of the items that is perplexing to me is we have numerous letters from the public … It is 50-50 between strong support for the Kent Wells-Sherman House Inc. group as well as an equal amount for Standing Rock," Balbierz said.
Supporters of the relocation plan who spoke Tuesday often suggested that both groups could find a win-win situation with the house on the lot.
Kent resident Doug Fuller said the house only occupies about one-third of the site and leaves two thirds available for use.
"There’s still tremendous opportunity for the cultural arts to thrive on that site … and for these two things to work very nicely together," Fuller said.
But many supporters of the green space insisted the best situation for SRCA's programming and activities is to leave the lot fully devoid of structures.
Ian Broadhead, a history major at Kent State, said he believes there's a fundamental disagreement between the two groups about what a compromise would be.
"For us a win-win doesn’t mean we get some of the lot," he said.
Kent attorney John Plough said his father, a curator for the Portage County Historical Society, taught him as a child that preserving history is important.
"But he didn’t teach me to preserve history at the expense of destroying something that’s so precious to so many people," Plough said. "I think that’s what we’ve got here."
Thurman said they can't just provide unfettered use of the lot to SRCA because of insurance concerns, and he said they would need a formal agreement in place for the arts group to use the lot.
"We have a tenant for the upstairs," Thurman said. "We’ve got to defray costs and earn some money to pay for the sustenance of the building. It’s kind of like the model where they have used the restaurant to pay for the maintenance and longevity of the building."
Members of the Kent Wells Sherman House Inc. estimate the costs to move the house to the site and make it compliant with city code requirements is about $190,000. The estimated cost to renovate the interior and exterior is about $100,000.
Kent State has agreed to make $40,000 available towards the house's relocation. Kent City Council voted to make a $15,000 loan available. The non-profit plans to obtain financing from Hometown Bank for the bulk of the initial costs while also relying on donations to pay for the nearly $200,000 estimated cost to move the house and make it a functioning structure.
Thurman said they plan to do as little excavation as possible on the site to set down the house.
"We’ve offered (Standing Rock) use of the first floor for some of their activities," he said. "And we believe a tiny, tiny fraction of Standing Rock's overall activities will be effected by this house and will add to their potential activities by being there and being a good neighbor."