Church plans student substance-free housing

Pamela Crimbchin

Summit Street location needs zoning changes

Students could have another choice of where to live by August 2011.

Kent Presbyterian Church, located on Summit Street, is planning to build substance-free housing that will feature living and learning in the same building.

“It’s a service in many ways to the students, to the community,” said the Rev. Aaron Meadows. “And it will be safe housing designed for those who are here to study.”

Currently, the church only has a plan showing the project is possible financially. Meadows said the project could cost up to $20 million but will not put a tremendous financial burden on the church.

Most of the decisions about design, management and policies, which will determine the final cost, are still up for discussion.

Meadows said the facility could hold a maximum of 320 beds, but there may be fewer.

“We need a certain number of beds minimum that will create enough revenue so we can have that other space and break even,” he said.

The rooms will most likely be set up in suite fashion, with some single rooms available. Meadows also said most rooms would have a washer and dryer.

Because of its close proximity to the Student Center and the Student Recreation and Wellness Center, the building will probably not have a restaurant or extensive gym area.

“It just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to put a very nice recreational facility in the project given that the rec is right there,” Meadows said.

After speaking to Residence Services, Meadows said the housing would probably only be open to upperclassmen. This adheres to university policy because freshmen and sophomores are usually required to live on campus.

Meadows and others involved with the project have been meeting with students to see what they want from their living situations and what they think of the proposed ideas.

“Everyone’s response has been positive so far,” he said. “A couple students are frustrated that they are seniors.”

One of the building’s aspects is a multipurpose room that will be used to hold discussions and lectures open to the residents and community.

“We wanted to have some sort of auditorium that handles lectures, handles dialogue, handles film, (and) handles small concerts,” Meadows said.

Residents do not have to be Christians and will not be required to go to any church events. The church will be involved with picking resident housing directors and resident assistants for the housing project, but there will probably be a property management firm handling day-to-day activities.

Zoning amendment

Before Kent Presbyterian Church can continue with any of its plans, it has to get some of the zoning regulations changed for the University District of Kent. The University District refers to the university area and some surrounding properties.

“What the Presbyterian Church asked us to do was to look at amending our code to give them the ability to potentially build some student housing on their property,” said Community Development Director Gary Locke.

Members of Kent City Council’s Land Use Committee agreed to the zoning amendment to the University District, where the Presbyterian Church is located, Oct. 7.

The amendment changed language in the zoning code so the church can own and operate a residential-type hall, rather than just the university.

Even though the committee approved the amendment, it still must be approved by the entire city council tomorrow.

Ward Five councilwoman Heidi Shaffer said she is wary of the language of the amendment and what effect it may have on other districts, even though she approved it at the committee meeting.

“What if a church or religious organization in another zoning district wanted to do something similar?” Shaffer said. “Would that be considered discriminatory if we said ‘No, it could only happen in the University District?'”

Shaffer said she is also questioning what the university thinks about the project.

Meadows said he does not want to compete with the university and doesn’t think there is anything wrong with the current housing situation. He said he wants the church housing to be complementary to that already supplied by the university.

Shaffer said her worries do not mean she is going to vote against the amendment, but that she’s looking for answers before tomorrow’s council meeting.

Many of the decisions dealing with the project are still undecided. The church is now in a bidding process with contractors.

Meadows said the church hopes to have the architect selected by early November.

After a contractor and design are chosen, the church will meet with the city once more to get the necessary building approvals.

Meadows said he hopes to have construction ready to go no later than April, so the housing can be open to students by August 2011.

Contact public affairs reporter Pamela Crimbchin at [email protected]