Apartment project could harm bog, nature group says

Theresa Montgomery

The boardwalk overlaying the Kent bog whispers a quiet subtlety of gray birch trees and wild cranberries coloring the landscape.

There’s no visible sign of controversy brewing about the future of this nature preserve, found just south of Mike’s Place near the intersection of state Route 43 and state Route 261. Local residents are renewing objections to a development project they say can put the bog in danger.

Last year, the city of Kent approved a proposal by EQK Portage, Inc., a Nevada-based group of developers, to rezone land north of the bog for residential use. Friends of the Kent Bog, an informal group concerned with preserving the bog, will attend Kent’s planning commission tonight at 7 p.m. to voice its concerns.

“It’s entirely up to the planning commission,” said Gordon Vars, facilitator of Friends of the Kent Bog and professor emeritus in education at Kent State.

“But we will make the strongest case we can to deny its approval. It really provides no protection for the bog.”

The Tom S. Cooperrider-Kent Bog State Nature Preserve is named for a retired botany professor from Kent State. Although nearby residents were aware of the presence of the bog, Cooperrider is credited as the first to document the presence of tamarack seeds in the bog in 1961.

“He, in essence, discovered it,” Vars said. “He found the peat bog, fully grown, with the largest stand of tamarack trees this far south on the continent.”

Dave Williams, an attorney for EQK, was unavailable for comment.

“Over the years, people have wanted to put a number of things there,” said Mary Gilbert, sustainability planner for Kent community development. “Back in the early 1980s, a developer wanted to put a mall in. There was a huge public outcry.”

The mall developer eventually sold the privately owned property, which has been unused for more than a decade. About five years ago, a strip mall was planned, but the developer, who would have had to extend utilities to the property and wanted a tax abatement, abandoned the project.

“We looked at that site intensely,” Gilbert said. “About a third (of Kent residents) wanted it to stay green, a third wanted it zoned commercially and a third wanted it to be zoned residentially.”

Based on this input from Kent residents, the city developed the 2004 Bicentennial Plan.

“At last, we’ve got something architects call ‘touching the land lightly.’ It’s commercially feasible, but would not affect the bog,” she said.

One option in the city’s plan is an office park. The other option is a mixed village comprised of residential and commercial development.

Vars and others do not object to the land’s development, but are concerned about the specifics of EQK’s proposal. The current plan for a proposed water retention pond would not be sufficient to prevent the flow of runoff across Meloy Road and into the nearby bog, Vars said.

Another problem is that the proposed plan would include digging up much of the buffer – an area that is supposed to remain untouched to preserve its ecological integrity – to lay pipeline to carry away the flow of water and sewage.

“Right where they want to put the water retention pond is where most of the trees are,” Vars said.

Wendy Kellogg, associate professor at Cleveland State University and director of the master’s program in urban planning, design and development, agrees runoff is a danger.

“Very often, these kinds of facilities are not designed to sufficiently contain the waterflow,” she said. “It can have a dramatic effect on the environment.”

As far as digging up part of the buffer zone to lay pipeline, then replanting trees in the area, Kellogg said that would defeat the purpose of retaining a natural buffer.

“You don’t disturb it at all because it would change the hydrology (waterflow) on the site. The point of a buffer is that you don’t touch it,” she said.

Yoram Eckstein, professor of hydrology at Kent State, said there are ways to successfully handle the challenges of runoff without harming the environment.

“It depends on the quality of the development and the technology applied. It can be handled very easily – but it can be messy,” he said.

Contact public affairs reporter Theresa Montgomery at [email protected].