Kent City Council meeting on March 6, 2024

Kent City Council approves signs, renovations and farmers’ market lease, plus more news from the March 6 meeting

During a special March 6 council meeting, Kent city leaders unanimously granted the city’s Community Development Department emergency authorization to review zoning and building permits for two downtown projects.

The narrowly crafted legislation allows the department to consider applications for signs submitted by two businesses in the downtown/West River Overlay district: roughly the downtown area and one parcel west of the Main Street bridge.

Without the proper paperwork in place, Marathon Financial at 234 S. Water St. and State Champs at 427 Franklin Ave., have been waiting since December, Community Development Department Director Bridget Susel told city leaders last month.

The city’s Architectural Review Board, tasked with monitoring exterior facade renovations and alterations, as well as signage in the downtown area, used to provide the required certificates of appropriateness but is no longer able to.

That’s because CT Consultants, which city leaders hired to overhaul Kent’s design guidelines, asserted in its 2023 report that the ARB could not require applicants to adhere to what are legally only voluntary recommendations.

City leaders are tweaking the city’s zoning code, which still calls for the ARB to issue the certificates, but the process is expected to take “several months,” Susel said.

City council continues to debate whether to disband the ARB entirely, have it revert to an advisory board or to designate the downtown area as a historic district.

Council’s committee of the whole, composed of all the members of city council itself, agreed during its March 6 session to ask council to renew Haymaker Farmers’ Market’s annual lease of land for its summer market at Franklin Avenue and Summit Street. Cost? A single dollar.

Kent actually leases the land from the Wheeling & Lake Erie railroad, so the agreement is actually a sublease, Susel said.

Council is expected to vote on the measure when it meets on March 20.

City leaders are hoping for federal funding for a number of projects, including $170,000 to design and reconstruct Elm Street from Dodge Street to South Water Street. The project involves rehabbing the asphalt pavement, new sidewalks, concrete curb and gutters, catch basins and storm sewers, all of which will improve drainage along the roadway.

Kent is also requesting $19,000 for a fair housing consultant to provide counseling in the areas of housing discrimination and landlord-tenant issues. The consultant would investigate fair housing complaints and provide public education and outreach services in Kent.

Additional funding requests from the city are $24,000 for a neighborhood policing program in low- to moderate-income neighborhoods and publicly assisted housing complexes, and an unspecified figure for the city’s Community Development Department to cover grant administration costs.

The Community Action Council of Portage County is also hoping for a $35,000 grant to continue its Kent Furnace Inspection/Targeted Replacement Program. The program enables low- to moderate-income Kent households to benefit from furnace inspections, tune-ups and replacements of failing or inefficient furnaces and/or hot water tanks.

AxessPointe Community Health Centers has a $15,000 request in for homeless shelter services at Miller Community House, one of two emergency homeless shelters in the county. AxessPointe is also hoping for $45,000 to replace the roof at Locke Apartments, a 10-unit permanent supportive services apartment complex on Lake Street.

Habitat for Humanity has a $25,000 request for critical home repairs such as roofing, bathroom, hot water tank and/or furnace replacements, plumbing and safety issues for low to moderate income households.

By May, when council is expected to vote on the requests, the actual amount of each grant should be available, Susel said.

It’s a month away, but Kent city police have the April 8 total eclipse of the sun in mind.

Police are concerned about the city’s current plan to close the downtown festival area to traffic and parking until 10 p.m. April 7, and reopen it until 3 a.m. April 8.

“I am concerned that this will invite people to park downtown and fear that since many businesses will be closed and KSU canceled classes, we will see cars parked and left downtown after 3 a.m. that will be subject to towing,” Kent Police Chief Nicholas Shearer wrote in a March 1 letter to City Manager Dave Ruller.

Instead, Shearer suggested that the road closure be extended to cover the entire five-hour period from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. The closure will still allow cars to get into and park in the South Water Street lot and in the city lot behind Townhall II, so downtown business should not be impacted the night of April 7, Shearer stated in his letter.

Shearer assured council that the road closures will not affect businesses that will be receiving deliveries.

City council’s committee of the whole agreed during its March 6 session, and will ask council to approve Shearer’s proposal when it meets on March 20.

Kent’s struggle to revise its political ward boundaries continues, with city Law Director Hope Jones telling council members on March 6 that the Portage County Board of Elections has determined that whatever ward maps Kent ultimately approves will not take effect until the 2025 primaries.

Jones asked council members to vote on the maps in April, as that will give Susel enough time to complete her paperwork.

In opposition was Council Member Heidi Shaffer Bish, who said she anticipated “a big disruption down the line.”

People are already confused about what ward they are in and who represents them, she said.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the Haymaker Farmers’ Market plan “also calls for paving the gravel area on which the summer market is sited.” The area will not be paved, and this statement was based on an mistaken reading of a map.

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