I’ll pass on the gas

Garrison Ebie

Kent is under significant architectural development lately. This is great. No one likes living in a run-down, ugly city that’s been neglected. The Phoenix Project downtown might be leveling a few old structures in the next few years, but at least some forward thinking is being brought to the table to make things look pretty and bring a much-needed facelift to the area.

That’s not all. At the beginning of September, plans were made and meetings arranged to build a Sheetz in the city of Kent. Most readers are probably already familiar with the massive store on Main Street, near Kent city limits in Franklin Township, but for some reason or another, one more may soon spring from the tree city’s rocky soil.

Work is scheduled to begin next year on the corner of Fairchild Avenue and South Mantua Street to add one more dazzling spectacle of neon lights to the night sky. As for the Johnson Building currently standing there with the Open Space Art Gallery, forget about it. That’ll be bulldozed to the ground. The gallery currently features a storefront window where pedestrians can check out paintings inside and perhaps even be inspired to try painting some of their own. But who needs art when there are tax dollars to gain through something else built in the same spot?

That particular block is zoned for gas stations. So yes, the Sheetz Company is most certainly allowed to build their gas station there. That doesn’t mean it has to happen. The Kent City Board of Zoning Appeals will meet Oct. 20 with a hearing to allow Sheetz to move in at the site. As long as the project is not found to be of “substantial detriment to the public interest … or improvements to such district,” according to the board’s Web site, they’re good to go. So technically, there is still time to stop it by convincing the board that no one in town likes the idea of putting another gas station there.

Does anyone need this? Not really. I mean, there’s a Circle K just two blocks north. Circle K actually renovated the inside of its store last spring. Not exactly perfect timing, considering it’s bound to go out of business when trying to compete with the Goliath next door.

No one really asked for Sheetz either, except the Sheetz people. It appears, though, that they’re not quite as cold-hearted and greedy as one would initially think. According to Kent City Manager Dave Ruller’s blog at kent360.com, the Sheetz engineers have been willing to meet with the city and the Kent Planning Commission more than once this month to discuss alternate models for the site. The city’s concerns lie mostly with the impact of increased noise and traffic on the surrounding residents. It’s an otherwise quiet neighborhood. Even though the idea of the store’s existence brings me nightmares, I do applaud the concern to have it fit in with the rest of the neighborhood’s unique character.

Furthermore, the plans for that same intersection to include a pedestrian bridge and expansion of the riverside park in no way make a gas station a pleasant site of any kind. The last thing I want to see on a walk through the park is the giant ketchup-colored Sheetz sign filtering in through the trees. It would just be ugly no matter what modifications were made to the traditional Sheetz architecture.

The demolition of the Johnson Building is tragic. If something worthwhile were to go in its place, I wouldn’t be quite as hostile toward that decision. But it’s just another gas station. Another gas station that will probably be bought out by another gas station in 10 years, then go out of business in less than 20, leaving another big empty slab of concrete scarring Kent.

I’m sure building the University Plaza on Water Street was a splendid idea at first. In fact, in decades past, it was a very profitable shopping area. But now what it is? Well, besides the movie theater and a few leftover run-down shops, it’s an ugly run-down parking lot with bundles of weeds spurting through cracks in the pavement. Sheetz will more than likely follow this path unless the rest of Mantua soon has enough other business to create a reason for it to exist.

This isn’t development; this is just another way for a multimillion dollar company to make more of what they already have enough of.

Garrison Ebie is a senior electronic media production major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].