Planning Commission to vote on fate of historic house and green space
DetailsCreated on Tuesday, 04 September 2012 01:53 Hits: 3364
View Various locations of the Wells Sherman House in a larger map
The City of Kent Planning Commission will vote for the second time Tuesday to determine whether a historic Kent house will be moved to a disputed green space on North Water Street to make way for the University Esplanade extension.
The vote will take place at 7 p.m. in the City Council Chambers.
The Kent Wells Sherman House is temporarily stationed at the end of East College Avenue and must find a permanent location before Dec. 1 to avoid being demolished. The university has offered $40,000 toward the move.
“We moved the house on Aug. 11 to allow for work on the University Esplanade extension and to give the city and the people working to preserve the house a bit more time to work through solutions that satisfy everyone in terms of the house’s permanent location,” said Emily Vincent, director of university media relations.
On July 17, the planning commission turned down a proposal that would move the house to a new location at 247 N. Water St. between Standing Rock Cultural Arts and Scribbles Coffee Company because some community members opposed the move.
The vacant lot is used as an organic garden, public arts gallery and rehearsal space for New World Children’s Theatre. The lot also offers an open view of Cherokee artist Edwin George’s mural on the exterior wall of Scribbles Coffee. Jeff Ingram, Standing Rock co-founder and executive director, said he’s been using the space for 20 years with the landowner’s permission.
“It’s become an integral part of our cultural art programming,” Ingram said. “The mural is one of the highlights of my career at Standing Rock Cultural Arts because it brought together the community, and our mission is to build community through the arts.”
There are currently 200 signatures on an online petition entitled, “City Council of Kent, Ohio: Help Save the Standing Rock Garden!”
The Kent Wells Sherman House was built in 1858 at the northeast corner of South Water and Erie streets and was moved in 1924 to 250 Erie St. to make way for an office building. Built on family land for Frances Kent Wells, the house is the last two-story Greek Revival house in Kent, according to the Friends of the Kent Wells Sherman House website.
“Kent was full of buildings like that a long, long time ago, and over the years, we’ve lost most of them,” said Roger Thurman, vice chairman of the board for the Kent Wells Sherman House, Inc. “This is one of the few that’s left, and it also happens to be a Kent family house built on Kent family land.”
The Friends of the Kent Wells Sherman House are currently fighting to preserve the house from demolition by relocating it to the North Water Street lot. The Kent Historical Society is collecting donations to help fund the house’s potential move.
Thurman said Arthur Properties Management LLC, owner of the property, agreed to sell the land for the house’s relocation.
“If we get the approval from the planning commission, we’re prepared to move ahead and start the process of putting the house on that lot,” Thurman said. “Every entity has approved it except the planning commission. They’re supposed to rule on the site plan. They’re not supposed to rule on the usage of the lot. If the site plan is completely legal and there are no objections — which they had no objections to — they’re doing a disservice to us and to the owner of that land who wants to sell his property to us.”
After being rejected by the planning commission the first time, the Friends of the Kent Wells Sherman House revised their site plan to move the house further forward on the property. The original plan would have placed the house 15 feet away from the sidewalk, while the new plan places it just 16 inches away.
“That was enough to kick it back through the system,” Thurman said. “The Kent code allows for site plan revisions to allow it to come back before the planning commission and the Architectural Review Board, which you have to go through first.”
The Kent Architectural Review Board has approved the site plan for a second time, and if the Planning Commission also approves, the house will be moved.
Video by Matt Jarchow.
Thurman said the location on North Water Street is the most affordable option because there aren’t many traffic lights and utility wires that would be obstacles during a move, which elevate the cost. He also said Ingram has no legal rights to the land.
“I’m sorry they have to have a neighbor next to them if it goes that way, but they had 20 years to execute some sort of legal agreement to prevent that from happening, and they never did anything,” Thurman said. “We’re just trying to save a house, and that’s a very worthy goal.”
Ingram said he never obtained a pre-emption right of refusal on the land because he wasn’t aware the owner planned to sell it. He said if the planning committee turns down the new site plan, he plans to negotiate a purchase agreement with the property owner to ensure this doesn’t happen again. He also plans to create “a more organized permaculture urban garden accessible to the community and a more organized children’s play area.”
When the house finds a new location, Thurman said he hopes the building will become a meeting place for local non-profits and social events. The second floor will be sold to a local law firm to house offices.
“[The Kent family is] a very important family, and we’re trying to take an important historic structure and rehabilitate it and repurpose it for modern usage,” Thurman said.
Ingram said he recognizes the importance of preserving the house but doesn’t want it to be placed on the lot.
“I want to see it restored and loved at another location other than 247 N. Water St.,” Ingram said. “We are looking for a win-win situation. We have researched other possible locations and will continue to research other locations for this house until a permanent one is found.”