A local farmer’s plea to move 38 acres of Kent into Franklin Township may head to court after city council members unanimously denied the request.
Landowner Eric Kolb — described by his brother as a “gentleman farmer” — petitioned Kent City Council on Wednesday to approve his request to detach his land so he could unite two parcels of the old Lappin farms he bought at auction under one jurisdiction.
But vocal and coordinated objections from his neighbors led the council to turn down the petition.
Council members said the move by Kolb was unusual, and city officials had to look up case law because they had never come across a request to detach land from the city before.
“Detachment is a little uncommon, but I wish to exercise my right,” Kolb said. “Originally this land was a farm for close to 100 years and was all in Franklin Township until it was sold to a developer.”
He said the land was annexed by Kent in 2005 as part of its plans to build new neighborhoods and subdivisions.
About 10 acres were developed into the Forest Lake subdivision (north of Fairchild Avenue, just east of Stow), but the rest has remained undeveloped as it is on a flood plain.
“I state publicly I love this land. I am not trying to develop this land,” Kolb said. “I love the small pond, the lake and the fertile soil. Growing up I would see the property being tilled. It is a dream come true to be the owner.”
He told the council he believed all the property was in one jurisdiction when he was the highest bidder, but later found out his frontage on Johnson Road is in Franklin Township and the rest in Kent.
“I love the tranquility of the property,” he said. “I do not plan to change anything majorly, build structures, change anyone’s view or flood anyone’s property. I have over the last year-and-a-half tried to reclaim its agricultural use as it was for 100 years. It has been a slow process to mow, cut down thistles and remove some trees. I have realized there is a lot of work to do.”
He said the sign before his driveway welcomes people to Franklin and that he has no access to Kent utilities because new development has “landlocked” his property from the city systems.
City officials confirmed Kolb had the right to call for a “detachment,” the legal term, asking the city to agree to return the land to Franklin Township.
“I had never heard of detachment,” Community Development Director Bridget Susel said. “When the petition came, four of us with 80 years of experience had never heard of it. I have learned a lot.”
She explained Kolb had the right under the Ohio Revised Code to ask council to approve the detachment — and if it did, the case could go straight to Portage County Commissioners for a decision, if Franklin Township also agreed to take the land back.
But if council rejected the petition, Kolb has the right to take it to the Court of Common Pleas for a decision.
Kent Assistant Law Director Eric Fink said the court will be bound to consider whether the land was originally part of Kent, whether the owner was taxed in “substantial excess” of city benefits, whether the city would be “materially affected” and whether the annexation was more than five years ago.
He said the city disputed Kolb is not excessively taxed, but the key issue was whether the petition was in Kent’s best interests, which is why the public was asked for comment.
Nearly a dozen residents living in the area united to present council members with a packet of information and took turns to speak against the petition.
Jim Stadelman, of Windward Lane, led resident objections.
“Our homes are unique in that the fronts look like a residential neighborhood, but the backs look as if you live in the country. It is zoned R2 residential,” he said. “Our concern number one is a lack of information for use of the land. No one has really told us what they would like to do, what development is planned, and if transferred how will our taxes be affected by the loss of revenue?
“We have concerns over roads and utilities, wetlands and sound levels. We are asking how the council can make an informed decision.”
Neighbor Roger Miles said the wetland often forms a river when it rains. He’s concerned any alterations to the land or lake could force water back up onto their properties.
Lori Kline asked about security. If the land was transferred, policing would move from Kent Police Department to the Portage County Sheriff’s Office.
And Ann Gilmore, a restoration manager with The Nature Conservancy, said, “About 17 acres of wetland remain constantly wet, often under standing water. It is a type of marsh formed by glacial activity. Despite the agricultural legacy the site continues to try and be a wetland.”
Council Member Heidi Shaffer Bish introduced the motion to deny the petition.
Council Member John Kuhar cautioned the residents that leaving the land in the city would not guarantee it will not be developed, but he voted against the petition in deference to the neighbors.
“Residents should know, the way it is laid out now, if you had a developer who wanted to build houses, there is nothing to stop them if they could meet the requirements,” Kuhar said. “You could be looking at someone else’s back lots and all the problems you say you don’t want. With the consideration of all those opposed to it, I think we have no choice but to oppose it.”
Correction: A previous version of this article referred to Lappin farm as Latham.