Letter to the editor: Kent’s Planning Commission is not listening to the community

Editor’s note: The Portager publishes letters to the editor from the community. The opinions expressed are published not because they necessarily reflect those of the publication but because we feel they contribute meaningfully to the local discourse on matters of public interest.

I cycled through a range of emotions while attending last Tuesday’s special meeting of Kent’s Planning Commission. This meeting was a second opportunity for the Planning Commission to hear (only some) residents’ concerns about building an assisted living facility that was green-lit for an 8.5-acre site off South Water Street. I live about a block away from the proposed area. (First: a disclosure that, because the minutes from the first meeting are not yet posted, my reaction is based on my attendance at the second meeting and The Portager’s reporting to date.)

During the first part of the meeting, my neighbors presented compelling, well-researched arguments against the facility and requested due diligence before moving forward — an environmental study, a traffic study, and additional provisions to protect the neighborhood. I was impressed. I felt pride and gratitude for my neighbors’ commitment to protecting the “essential character” of this neighborhood. They presented their arguments with clarity and calmness. They brought packets and handouts with written information for the commission.

When the public comments ended, the commission clarified a few questions with the community development director. Given the speed at which the commission then moved to vote, it was quickly apparent that they did not consider any new arguments. There was no time to digest the written information. I attended knowing I was not permitted to speak. I naively hoped that my presence would serve as a small signal of the importance of this topic to the community, but the packed room was disregarded. The meeting was a formality. There was never any intention of changing the vote. I was disappointed, saddened and angry.

I’ve lived in Kent for over eight years. I frequent local businesses and love the smallness and community in Kent. I tend to believe the city of Kent has the best interests of its community members at heart. This is why I was shocked by the lack of consideration of the (what seemed to me) well-reasoned arguments and evidence presented. No time was taken to address the audience or explain why the project would move forward despite residents’ concerns. It was simply stated that environmental and traffic studies are not needed.

I have unanswered questions: Why was this project approved? What are the benefits to the community and/or what is the need? I am open to being proven wrong, to learning that this facility is a public good, and that this is the best space to build it, but I have yet to hear those explanations. Why would a city that prides itself on the nickname “Tree City” permit tearing down forested area?

In times of global turmoil, I have hope that we can at least work locally to support our neighbors’ and our ecosystem’s health and well-being. Based on my attendance at the meeting, the actions of Kent’s Planning Commission were dismissive and disappointing. We deserve better, and an explanation. I hope further dialogue and information is forthcoming.

Jennifer Taber

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