Planning Commission meets today to discuss revisions in zoning code

Megan Rozsa

Residents claim new issues need to be addressed

As Kent grows, it is constantly pushing students in and out of Kent State and out of the rooming/boarding houses. All that change causes residents around them to adjust to new neighbors, sometimes three times a year.

But, as more students come to the university, more rooming/boarding houses are appearing as some single family homes get transformed by owners.

Many Kent residents think the students are the reason for the added rooming/boarding house problem, when really, it is Kent’s outdated zoning code, city officials claim. The Planning Commission meets at 7 p.m. today to discuss possible changes to the code.

This issue was first discussed at the Sept. 16 Planning Commission meeting, when Community Development Director Gary Locke said he would like to see the zoning code revised. The last major revision to the zoning code was made in 1985.

The code currently classifies a family as of one or more related people connected by blood, adoption or marriage. A family can also be no more than two unrelated people living together.

A rooming/boarding house is defined as a dwelling unit that houses more than two unrelated people. Property owners are putting more people in houses than allowed making it an illegal rooming/boarding house.

This is where problems arise.

For example, when there isn’t sufficient space for parking, the renters may park anywhere, perhaps infringing on the neighbors’ spaces or turfing the lawn.

Peter Paino, owner of Paino Building Corporation and chairman of the Board of Zoning Appeals, said there are sections of the zoning code that need to be looked at in order for things to change.

“People from the city (officials) felt that it was time to at least initiate some discussion among the people in the city to see if there’s consensus to look at the code again,” Paino said. “The fact of the matter is, rooming houses in Kent, to a certain segment of the population, feel that it’s a problem. And the zoning code doesn’t adequately address trying to contain the spread of rooming houses.”

Paino used this scenario to explain what many people in the city feel is the problem with the zoning of rooming/boarding houses:

“In a college town like Kent, you get houses that used to be single-family houses. Then the family moves out, and they can probably get more money for their house if they sell it to a landlord that will split the house up into five or six bedrooms, instead of a single-family house. Unfortunately when that happens, the condition of that house tends to deteriorate a little bit.”

When asked whose fault it is, Paino blamed economics. He cited College Avenue as being one of the worst streets in Kent because it changed from having single-family houses to rooming houses.

Locke agreed that the problem lies in economics.

“People want to make money off these properties,” Locke said, “so they’re going to put more people in than they should.”

Paino doesn’t want to see rooming/boarding houses outlawed, but he would like to see them regulated. He would like to see the code enforced where rooming/boarding houses should be allowed.

John Kuhar, Kent’s Ward 4 councilman, said the problems come on places like University and Sherman streets, where litter tends to get out of hand as well.

“The problem is the whole college population gets viewed as the people doing that, when you’ve got less than 1 percent of the people that cause the problems,” Kuhar said.

Kuhar said it’s this small percent of people who are giving rooming/boarding houses a bad rap. He would like to see the new zoning restrict the areas where the houses are allowed and make them comply with the existing ordinances.

Kuhar said he sees a solution in restricting areas for the houses and changing zoning in areas where they were allowed before by not letting new ones come into that area. He would also like to see a change in the law that defines who is allowed to live with whom.

“If you have four students who are willing to pay for a house, I don’t see a problem in letting them pay for it,” he said. “But because of the law, they wouldn’t be allowed to live in it.”

Locke guessed the Community Development Department receives about 30 to 40 complaints about rooming/boarding houses a year, along with one full-time code enforcement officer who looks for houses that may be seen as a problem.

At the Oct. 7 Planning Commission meeting, members decided to split the issue of zoning depending on the subject matter. The commission members want to discuss each topic individually so they have a comprehensive understanding of all the parts before they make a decision.

Contact public affairs reporter Megan Rozsa at [email protected].