Kent will annex 175 acres of Franklin Township, site of a major Davey Tree expansion

Franklin Township has accepted a deal to give up about 175 acres — the site of a proposed Davey Tree expansion — to the City of Kent in exchange for a portion of property taxes over the next 13 years. 

The Davey Tree Expert Company bought the 174.8-acre property (the old Oak Knolls Golf Course) for $1.875 million in 2017. They intend to develop the land as a science and learning center, expanding Davey Tree’s capacity for technical research and specialized training.

But the company wanted its Davey East Campus, as they dubbed the land, under Kent jurisdiction.

“From the beginning this has been an issue of safety and finance for us,” said Davey Tree  Public Relations Director Jennifer Lennox. “Annexation means that all our campuses are under the same jurisdiction and as such, public safety services (police, fire and EMS) are all provided by the City of Kent. In addition, the water and sewer utilities are significantly less expensive through the City of Kent.”

Franklin trustees offered to resolve Davey’s concerns about security issues and extend water and sewer service throughout the acreage, but it appeared Davey’s mind was made up, Swan said.

“We’re disappointed,” Franklin Trustee Scott Swan said. “Any time a township loses property, it’s disappointing. But if there’s one company in the City of Kent that most people are most proud of, it would be Davey Tree, so we understand their reasons for doing it. Everyone identifies Davey Tree with Kent.”

Ohio law allows cities and villages to annex township property adjacent to their borders without permission from the township government, so the Franklin trustees could only negotiate for the best deal possible.

“If we didn’t agree to something, then we really ran the risk of getting nothing, so it was a nice gesture from the city,” Swan said.

Under the deal, Kent will reimburse the township for property taxes while Davey develops the property, which is expected to take three to four years, Kent City Manager Dave Ruller said. Property taxes are currently $43,012 annually, according to the county auditor’s office.

After the property is developed, the city and the township will split the tax revenue for 10 years, with the city getting 55%.

Kent City Council is expected to approve the deal at an upcoming meeting. 

“I’m glad the city and township were able to work together to meet the needs of Davey Tree,” Ruller said.

Knowing that Davey Tree — an employee-owned company founded in Kent in 1880 with over $1 billion in annual sales — has chosen to remain in Kent made the decision easier. And Swan agreed with Davey Tree officials who say having all of the company’s facilities under a single jurisdiction makes sense.

The company operates across North America, and its trademark trucks are often seen responding to disaster zones after devastating storms.

Davey Tree’s corporate HQ is on North Mantua Street in Kent. It also owns property on St. Clair Avenue, Franklin Avenue, Bryce Road, Main Street, Martinel Drive, Hudson Road and at 6662 State Route 43, site of the now-demolished Franklin School. 

“The township is as proud as the City of Kent to be a part of Davey Tree and the company that it is, just being something we’re all proud of. We want to maintain good relations,” Swan said.

Davey East Campus will create additional jobs, support workforce training and development, and draw visitors who will support other local businesses, Lennox said.

Conceptual plans include trails through the new arboretum, which will have a 26-spot parking area. The arboretum, according to a letter sent to neighboring property owners, will be to the north of the John Davey Arboretum and is meant to be a shared community space and “living classroom” for Kent Roosevelt High School students and anyone else interested in learning about trees, shrubs and plants.

A hike and bike trail is proposed to run along the western edge of the campus.

“Davey Tree wishes to become part of the city, and we’ll welcome them with all the agreements that have been made. It’s their wish to come into the city limits, and we’ll welcome them,” Kent Mayor Jerry Fiala said.

Correction: An earlier version of this article reported the trails would connect to a city neighborhood.

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