City leaders delayed a ruling on the Kent Sportswear color question

The building in question as it currently is. Submitted photo

Ahead of Wednesday’s Kent City Council committee meetings, Kent entrepreneur Mike Beder was confident city leaders would overturn the Architectural Review Board’s recent rejection of the paint scheme on his new business, Kent Sportswear, located at 125 S. Water St.

But instead of sending a recommendation to council, city leaders, in a 5-4 vote, decided not to decide — until new design guidelines are codified. When that will be is anyone’s guess. Council recently approved funding for a consultant to update the guidelines, but no one has been hired yet.

Beder (who is a member of The Portager Board of Advisers) painted his storefront in the Golden Flashes’ signature blue and yellow, adding white trim around three yellow panels below the storefront windows. Yellow stripes around the door and windows also set off the features that are painted blue.

The ARB requested that the three panels remain yellow with white trim, that all the other trim be repainted blue, and that the second floor windows also be painted blue. As the paint job now stands, the whole building is practically a sign for Kent State, ARB member Howard Boyle had argued.

Beder called the ruling subjective and appealed to council, which can overturn ARB decisions. This would not be without precedent: In October, startup founder Valerie Landis appealed the ARB’s rejection of signage for Garage 108, a multi-use business she intends to open at 108 W. College St. Council members granted that appeal.

In a twist, Landis now hopes to gain one of two open seats on the Architectural Review Board. That would mean unseating either Kevin Koogle or Dennis Saxe, whose terms are expiring. She had also applied for an open seat on the city’s Planning Commission but withdrew that bid upon learning that citizens can only serve on one board at a time.

(Council will consider her application, as well as those of volunteers for other boards, during its Nov. 17 meeting. Five votes are needed to secure an appointment.)

Following the committee’s non-decision on his paint job, Beder said he would have preferred closure, especially in light of the Garage 108 decision.

“I thought the tone of the council seemed to be that what I had painted was appropriate,” he said. “I think I just got made a martyr for the whole situation. Shouldn’t they have just approved my colors and let me go on?”

Beder hopes that when council does put the ARB guidelines together, Kent State blue and gold will be permitted in downtown Kent. 

Voting against the decision to delay, Council Member Robin Turner said, “I think we should make a decision because that’s what we’re tasked with doing.”

Also in opposition was Council Member John Kuhar, who said, “I felt we have had some issues with the ARB, and I thought that those issues should be separate from what Mr. Beder was presenting to us. … We should have looked at his separately and disposed of it.”

Council members Mike DeLeone and Tracy Wallach also opposed delaying the decision.

Council members Gwen Rosenberg, Roger Sidoti, Garret Ferrara, Jack Amrhein and Heidi Shaffer Bish supported the decision to delay, with Ferrara stating that the city is caught between supporting local business and “setting a dangerous precedent of letting people think that just because they don’t like a decision that’s made by the ARB, that council’s going to want to hear that. I think that’s something we want to avoid.”

Shaffer Bish said council is “between a rock and a hard place,” as ARB decisions “come down to a matter of personal taste.”

Even ARB member Kevin Koogle agrees with that. Admitting that the guidelines under which the ARB operates are some 80 years old, Koogle said updating them would give the board some teeth and help it do its job better. ARB decisions are now based on the members’ opinions, Koogle said.

“That’s where I see the ARB’s role, protecting what we have. It’s art. It’s not science,” he said.

Beder can retain his storefront colors until the new design guidelines are developed, at which point a review might not even be necessary, Shaffer Bish noted. Law Director Hope Jones assured Beder he would not face legal action for a zoning violation while the review is pending.

Admitting that Kent’s design guidelines do not specify specific colors, Community Development Director Bridget Susel said the intent is to keep buildings compatible in color and texture with adjacent structures.

Beder countered that the adjacent buildings are an antique store and Woodsy’s Music, which is across an alley from his business. White is an appropriate color for an antique store, and Woodsy’s Music is vibrantly painted, Beder has said.

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Wendy DiAlesandro is a former Record Publishing Co. reporter and contributing writer for The Portager.