Court rejects bid to halt move of Sherman House

Magistrate: Kent did not violate open meeting law, city ordinance in historic home decision

By Thomas Gallick | Staff Writer Published:

A magistrate has rejected a group's claim that the city of Kent violated state open meetings law when its Architectural Review Board reviewed plans to move a historic house to a lot on North Water Street.

Eric Fink, Kent's assistant law director, said Thursday Magistrate Kent Graham found the city "did not violate Sunshine Law, state or local ordinance" when its Architectural Review Board met in August to discuss a non-profit group's plan to move the Kent Wells Sherman House, constructed in 1858 for town founding father Zenas Kent's daughter, to 247 N. Water St.

A second group, called "Save the Standing Rock Garden," objects to the house's move to the lot adjacent to Standing Rock Cultural Arts, which does not own the space but used it with permission for gardening and educational purposes for the past 20 years. Kent Wells Sherman House Inc., the group looking to move the house, bought the site from Arthur Property Management earlier this year.

Kent Wells Sherman House Inc. went through three city boards for approval of the plan to move the house, including two trips to the Kent Planning Commission, which rejected the group's first site plan for the project.

The "Save the Standing Rock Garden" group filed a lawsuit appealing Planning Commission's final decision and asked for injunctions against Kent Wells Sherman House and the city of Kent. The group claimed Planning Commission should have waited a year before reviewing the Kent Wells Sherman House a second time, also alleging the city violated open meeting law by not properly notifying the public of its Architectural Review Board's meeting.

Graham approved a temporary restraining order in late October against Kent Wells Sherman House Inc. from working on the site at 247 N. Water St., an order he dismissed Nov. 26 in a ruling that found "Save the Standing Rock Garden" could prove no ownership of the property.

He struck another blow to "Save the Standing Rock Garden's" case Wednesday when he refused to grant an injunction against the city of Kent, ruling the "plaintiffs have no basis to dispute the site plan approval granted to Wells-Sherman."

Graham said the city had "established a reasonable method to inform the public" of meetings by posting schedules in public offices and sending notices to local media, thus following open meeting laws. "Save the Standing Rock Garden" had argued the city violated the law because it did not include "instructions to the paper to publish the notice," an argument Graham rejected.

The magistrate also ruled that the city's board did not act improperly by hearing the case twice in one year, noting that it was typical procedure for the board to review a project more than once in a year if the proponents made "material changes" to the site plan.

Fink said "Save the Standing Rock Garden" can still continue its appeal of the Kent Planning Commission decision, but he believes Wednesday's ruling makes it likely the appeal will ultimately be rejected.

Roger Thurman, vice chairman of Kent Wells Sherman House inc., said the group is looking forward to moving the house after it receives a foundation permit from the city of Kent.

The house, purchased by Kent State University so it could be demolished to make way for a pedestrian walkway, is currently sitting on KSU property on East College Avenue. Thurman said KSU, which sold the house to Kent Wells Sherman House Inc. for $1 after its history came to light, originally set a deadline of Dec. 1 for the house to be off university property, but added that school officials have since taken a more flexible stance on the issue.

Contact this reporter at 330-298-1126 or tgallick@recordpub.com

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