River Bend residents petition against a proposed parking lot

Doug Gulasy

Residents of the River Bend development are unhappy with the city’s plans to build a 20-car parking lot in the neighborhood.

In September, Kent was awarded a $250,000 grant from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to improve accessibility to the Cuyahoga River. As part of the grant, the city plans to build a 20-car, lighted parking lot in the River Bend housing development, as well as a canoe and kayak launch point.

But residents of the neighborhood are protesting the decision.

“It’s a beautiful green space right now, and they’re going to destroy it by putting in an asphalt, lighted parking lot in a residential neighborhood,” said James Sumner, whose house on River Bend Boulevard is close to the proposed parking lot site.

“And I don’t think there’s a need for this 20-car parking lot,” Sumner said.

The parking lot will be built near where River Bend Boulevard meets the Cuyahoga River, in the middle of the housing development.

Sumner said he and a neighbor circulated a petition throughout the neighborhood and collected 80 signatures in three hours.

“I think the closer you are to it, the more opposed you are to it,” he said.

Sumner said he submitted the petition to Ward 1 Councilman Garret Ferrara but has received no response yet.

City officials applied for a $1.5 million grant to build a whitewater park along the river in 2008 but were denied. They applied for the new grant in April, and it was officially awarded Sept. 28.

In addition to the parking lot and launch point, the city plans to build steps in downtown Kent to allow boaters to more easily carry their canoes and kayaks down to the river from the street.

The project will cost $292,000, with the Parks and Recreation Department chipping in the $42,000 not covered by the grant.

Parks and Recreation Director John Idone, who applied for the grant, said the improved accessibility will draw boaters from beyond Northeast Ohio.

“The river is really kind of a unique natural feature that we have in Kent and is known by kayakers and canoeists around the area as a nice place to canoe,” Idone said.

“We think that not only is it a good recreational thing for local people, but it will draw people from outside the area that want to participate in those sports.”

David Herpy, outdoor adventure and camp coordinator at the Student Recreation and Wellness Center, said the improved accessibility will likely draw only avid boaters at first. Eventually, however, he expects people from outside the area to come to Kent and use the river.

Herpy said the parking lot was originally supposed to be built farther back in the River Bend development, a greater distance away from state Route 43. He said the planned location will allow police to more easily patrol the neighborhood and should minimize problems.

Herpy added that the park will have more benefits than drawbacks for River Bend residents.

“It’s statistically proven that if you live within so many feet of a park, your property value increases,” Herpy said. “That’s one of the benefits of having this park.”

Idone said he intends to have two community meetings with River Bend residents beginning in November to address their concerns.

“We’re going to see if there are things we can do through design to improve any problems they might have with extra lighting or limit the size of the parking lot – limit the footprint of the project,” Idone said. “And we hope to build it in an aesthetically pleasing way that it kind of fits with that neighborhood.”

Sumner said a major problem is that the city didn’t approach residents until after the grant was finalized. He said he also called City Manager Dave Ruller four times in the past three weeks to arrange a meeting about the plans.

But Sumner has not yet been granted a meeting, and he said, “the problem is that they’re all in favor of it.”

“We have a council and a city manager that are supposed to represent us, but they don’t do that,” Sumner said. “They do what they want to do.”

Contact public affairs reporter Doug Gulasy at [email protected].