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East Main Street Lofts v. The City of Kent Planning Commission

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eleventh District, Portage

December 23, 2019


          Civil Appeal from the Portage County Court of Common Pleas, Case No. 2017 CV 0297.

          Elisa P. Pizzino, Warner Mendenhall and Logan Trombley, The Law Offices of Warner Mendenhall, (For Appellant).

          Eric R. Fink, (For Appellee).


          TIMOTHY P. CANNON, J.

         {¶1} Appellant, Hallmark Campus Communities d.b.a. East Main Street Lofts ("EMSL"), appeals from the May 7, 2019 judgment entry of the Portage County Court of Common Pleas, affirming a decision of the City of Kent Planning Commission ("Commission") to deny a conditional zoning permit to construct the East Main Street Lofts. For the following reasons, the trial court's judgment is affirmed.

         {¶2} The factual circumstances leading to the present appeal were articulated in the previous appeal, East Main Street Lofts v. City of Kent Planning Comm., 11th Dist. Portage No. 2018-P-0004, 2018-Ohio-5342, and are restated in relevant part as follows:

On August 19, 2015, Hallmark Campus Communities ("Developer"), a real estate development company in Columbus, Ohio, applied for a site plan review and conditional zoning permit to construct the EMSL, a multi-family residential complex, in the city of Kent, Ohio. The development's parking lot was to be constructed in neighboring Franklin Township. After Franklin Township denied the parking plan, the Developer submitted a revised application on August 26, 2016. The new plan placed the entire proposed development, which consists of two 4-story residential buildings, a parking lot, and a green area, in Kent. The size was reduced from 98 units of one- and two-bedroom apartments with a total of 362 beds to 94 units of one-and two-bedroom apartments with a total of 184 beds.
The proposed development is primarily located in Kent's "Commercial High Density Multifamily Residential" ("C-R") district. Under Kent City Codified Ordinances ("KCO") Section 1145.02(b)(3), multifamily dwellings are conditionally permitted in the C-R district subject to the requirements set out in KCO Section 1171.01(a)(5), (9), (11), (22), (37), and (38).
The following zoning districts border the proposed development: Kent's C-R district to the north and northwest; Kent's "Multifamily Residential" ("R-4") district to the south and southwest; and Franklin Township's "General Commercial" ("C-1") district to the east.
Holly Drive extends into the development from Horning Road. This access point is located in Kent's R-4 district. Horning Road continues East into Franklin Township's "Single Family Residential" ("R-1") district. Franklin Township's C-1 district sits between the development and the R-1 district. Several single-family homes are located along Horning Road.
At the request of the Commission, the Developer hired "EMH & T" to generate a Traffic Impact Study. The Developer presented its proposal to the Commission on October 4, 2016. In February 2017, Kent's city staff found the proposed development either met the requirements for a conditionally permitted use under KCO Section 1171.01 or was granted a variance by the Board of Zoning Appeals.
The Developer again presented its case to the Commission on February 21, 2017. Prior to any discussion, an oath was administered to those members of the audience who wished to be heard. Thereafter, Ryan Pearson, a representative of the Developer, reviewed the site plan and proposal for EMSL. He answered questions from the commissioners about changes that were made to the plan pursuant to the Traffic Impact Study. He explained the city's traffic engineer and the Developer's traffic engineer were both involved in making the changes.
Doug Bender, Senior Traffic Engineer with EMH & T, discussed the Traffic Impact Study on behalf of the Developer. Mr. Bender explained the Traffic Impact Study considered five intersections in the area and that changes were made to the site plan based on the recommendations of the study. The Traffic Impact Study states: "All study area intersections are predicted to operate acceptably with existing conditions for vehicular traffic in the 2018 Build condition. Consequently, no off-site improvements are recommended at this time. A site-related improvement at the site entrance of Holly Drive is recommended to consist of:
• Install pedestrian crosswalks on all three approaches to the Horning Road/Holly Drive intersection and a stop bar on the Holly Drive approach.
• Construct pedestrian landings at each crosswalk location.
• Improve the sidewalk along the west side of Holly Drive to provide an eight-foot wide path
• Improve the site connection for pedestrians/bikes to the adjacent Holly Park apartments
No other site-related improvements are warranted or recommended.
Following Mr. Bender's discussion, several residents of Horning Road and owners of property on Horning Road, from both Kent and Franklin Township, provided comment. They expressed concerns regarding how the development would affect their neighborhood. One resident indicated the development would be "significantly overbearing to the existing R-1 neighborhood." The residents explained that increased population density resulting from the development would change the character of the neighborhood and contribute to traffic congestion, increased crime rates, blight, invasion of privacy, and pollution. In support, several neighbors referred to a "Comprehensive Community Housing Study and Needs Analysis" ("Housing Study") published in 2016, which, in part, analyzed housing supply and demand in the city of Kent.
The residents also expressed doubt over the findings of the Traffic Impact Study. One resident indicated he thought the study was biased, and several residents contested the study's findings. In response to the concerns, Mr. Bender explained he had worked with the city staff to set up the parameters for the study. He further explained the procedures used in conducting the study and stated that pedestrian volumes were included in the study. Mr. Pearson also addressed the concerns, explaining the Developer was not trying to address all the community's issues with traffic but would make improvements to address certain pedestrian and bike connections.
After the public comment, Jennifer Barone, development engineer from the city of Kent, addressed the Commission and reviewed the proposed plan. She explained that the Traffic Impact Study was reviewed by the city's traffic engineer and the city engineer, who found the information in the study was acceptable. She further explained the city had plans to address traffic issues in the area. She stated the city staff found the Developer met the requirements of "the zoning code * * * with the changes and the variances that were granted."
The commissioners engaged in discussion and directed questions to Mr. Pearson. Following the discussion, they unanimously voted to deny the Developer's conditional ...

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