Kent City Council's Dec. 15, 2021, meeting

Kent City Council update: meeting time changes, new fire chief, building demos and more

Effective in March, Kent City Council meetings will be held at 7 p.m. instead of 7:30 p.m. the third Wednesday of each month. Council enacted the change Feb. 21, reasoning that it would alleviate confusion over when meetings start: its committee meetings start at 7 p.m. the first Wednesday of each month.

Those committees, all of which include all council members and the mayor, include community development, finance, health and safety, land use, and streets, sidewalks and utilities.

Having lost two firefighter/paramedics, a captain and a chief to retirement in 2023, Kent’s 36-member fire department is back up to full strength.

James “Jamie” Samels is the department’s new chief, having been named chief Jan. 22 and sworn in Feb. 12. Samels was hired in 1997 as a firefighter/paramedic and rose through the ranks to captain of one of the department’s three, 24/7 shifts. He has been serving as acting chief since Chief Bill Myers was placed on administrative leave in March 2023 and then retired.

Samels introduced council on Feb. 21 to the department’s newest employees and to those who have recently been promoted:

  • Ethan Murphy, a graduate of Kent’s Theodore Roosevelt High School and Kent State University, joined Kent Fire in mid-2023 as a firefighter/paramedic.
  • Nate Fabinak, a Canton native and alum of the University of Akron, joined the department as a firefighter/paramedic in the autumn of 2023.
  • Rob Jacob, who joined Kent Fire in October 2015, was promoted from firefighter/paramedic to lieutenant on Jan 22. Since Jacob is also assigned to the department’s fire prevention office, his new duties include fire inspections and public education. Jacob is a Kent native, a graduate of Stark State College and a veteran of the U.S. Navy.
  • Shawn Baynes was also promoted from lieutenant to captain on Jan. 22. Baynes, hired in 1999, has served as a fire prevention lieutenant and a shift lieutenant. His new responsibilities include leading one of the department’s shifts.

Thanks to a county-funded land bank and unanimous authorization from city council on Feb. 21, two Kent buildings will soon see the wrecking ball.

One is a residential property at 331 Elm St. The other is a commercial structure at 266 N. Water St. The commercial structure has been on the market for several years, but has been found to be so “structurally compromised that the cost of needed improvements would far exceed the property’s value,” Community Development Director Bridget Susel told council members earlier this month.

Both of the structures have been condemned and deemed blighted properties.

The Portage County Auditor’s Office lists the Portage County Land Reutilization Corp., aka Land Bank, as the owner of 331 Elm and the city of Kent as the owner of 266 N. Water. Most recently used to house a tattoo parlor, the downtown building formerly housed any number of bars.

The city will secure a court order to demolish the Elm Street structure and will sign an agreement with the Land Bank to demolish the North Water Street building.

To obtain the funds, council members authorize Susel to submit a grant application to the Ohio Department of Development by the end of February.

The funds will be channeled through the Land Bank, which is tasked with “facilitating the conversion of vacant, blighted, and tax-delinquent properties into viable uses,” Susel wrote in her memo to city leaders.

The Land Bank’s website states that once properties are leveled or renovated, they are “put back on the tax rolls where they become productive presences in neighborhoods and positive contributors to property values in the local real estate market area.”

Council also approved the purchase of slivers of land from the Diocese of Youngstown and Slightly Toasted LLC so the East Main Improvement Project may proceed. Kent will take ownership of 0.153 acres at 1424 Horning Rd., paying the bishop of the Diocese of Youngstown $955. Kent will retain a temporary easement of 0.04 acres of the property, paying the diocese $3,600.

The city needs the property for right-of-way purposes to install, construct and reconstruct the roadway and sidewalks needed for the project.

For the same reason, Kent will pay Slightly Toasted $1,125 for a temporary easement at 331 E. Main St. The building on the property houses Bliss Ohio, the city’s only medical marijuana dispensary.

Council also accepted a $2,000 event sponsorship grant and a $48,800 Energized Community Grant from the Northeast Ohio Public Energy Council (NOPEC).

City leaders intend to use the event sponsorship grant for the Kent Chamber of Commerce’s April 8 eclipse activities, and the energized community grant to support Kent’s energy improvement projects, including upgrading motors at the water reclamation plant, HVAC efficiency upgrades and an LED lighting study.

Also on Feb. 21, council members approved expanded road closures for the city’s May 18 craft beer festival, an annual event that seems to be growing each year.

North Water Street will be closed between Main Street and Portage Street, and Main Street will be closed between Gougler Avenue and Water Street. Though the Main Street bridge will be closed, breweries will not be located on it. Franklin Avenue will be closed where it cuts into Main Street.

The closures will be in effect from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. May 18. The festival itself will run from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m.

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