Tuesday, July 24, 2012

...But We're Not in Denmark

Continuing the discussion from the last post...
The full project including restoration is projected to cost between $250,000 and $300,000.  At the end of this, the 800 square foot house will be the home to three professional offices upstairs (lawyer, architect, etc.), and a meeting room holding 25 people downstairs.  The rents from the offices and meeting room will go to pay the estimated $1,100 a month in costs, and the project is getting $40,000 in help with moving costs from Kent State University, $15,000 from the city, and unknown amounts of in-kind assistance from the city to help with the whole project. 

For the finance committee meeting, public comments and questions were strictly limited to discussing *only* the loan itself, no other matters.  Nearly everyone spoke in opposition of this loan.  Questions concerned whether or not this project was benefiting unduly from ties to city council (the architect in charge and the director of TransPortage that backed this project is a former city council member, and a third council member has made unsolicited contacts to people opposed to putting the house on this green space to try and sway them); where the rest of the considerable funds needed for this project would come from; what was the collateral for the loan (there is none- it's unsecured); among other things.  When it was city council's turn to ask questions, similar questions also arose, but many other topics also came up, and they ranged far from the project at hand.  City council asked about the public support this new group had (their response: they're new, but they do have 130+ members on their Facebook group; those in opposition presented online and physical petitions with over 300 signatures, besides those who spoke).  One council member compared the project to a boat with a giant hole in the bottom, and granting this loan to throwing money into the boat, and one council person said that from a business stance, this loan was ridiculous.  Questions were raised about parking in the area, which is already difficult and sparse.  The night before, the city planning commission had denied the site plan for relocating this house to the green space, citing vociferous public concerns, and asking where was the historical concern for this house when it was being "bastardized" as a student rental.  The council raised the question of what Kent Wells Sherman House, Inc. contingency plan for this obstacle was, and heard the response of "We'll wait and see what happens."  With the denial of their site plan, they cannot move the house to the site until they've appealed this decision, and the university will not release their funds until the house is ready to be relocated.  The first date that they can appeal is August 20th, and that comes after the deadline for the house to be demolished on August 11th, so right now a contingency plan would be very helpful for them if the house is to be saved.
 Personally, I would much prefer to see the green space preserved, and think this whole process of trying to preserve the house has been shady.  I've dealt with crank-calls and crude emails on a daily basis since I became involved.  My husband is a historian, and we live in a nearly 100 year old house- I appreciate history and its preservation.  However, this high a dollar amount invested in a questionable project that would destroy green space and is publicly unpopular, and has as many flaws as I've stated here (and more), then it's not a good project for the community.  It is, on the other hand, a great project for those trying to preserve the house, as they personally aren't on the line for the loans should this project fail and the house be foreclosed.  The preservationists come out smelling great for trying to do a good thing, the house gets moved and saved, and professionals downtown get office space in a good neighborhood (so good that the architect on this project lives right around the corner).  The demographics are also interesting to see- very homogenous looking preservationists, and a very diverse group that uses the green space as it is.  
In the end, city council made their decision based on everything but the one thing that the public was allowed to comment upon, with one member even stating that they would "vote for preservation" and only one member voted with the public.  The council member who is an incorporator of Kent Wells Sherman House, Inc. made the motion to approve the loan, and the member who has cold-emailed citizens seconded the motion.  So I stay involved, hoping I can make a difference, and because staying involved is what I do, and what I enjoy.  If we don't speak up and voice our opinion, who could we possibly influence?  Even if our elected officials aren't swayed when we do speak up, at least we know where they stand.

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