The City of Kent is in the early stages of updating design standards to guide town center building signage and facades and some business owners and community members are hoping the consultants hired for the write will spend enough time getting feedback from the public.
The city is partnering with CT Consultants Inc. for the project. The firm was tasked with establishing guidelines that will reflect the aesthetics of the current downtown area, which includes historic buildings in close proximity to new construction, as well as creating plans to help future development projects complement the existing styles.
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Bridget Susel, Kent’s Community Development Manager, explained that with input from the community, the town tries to develop standards and guidelines based on the wishes of residents.
“We have to see what the guidelines will be, what will be codified, what the community supports, what they want to keep, what they want to change, what the council supports,” Susel said. “Right now, we are very early in the process of gathering information.”
The consultancy firm held a meeting at Kent Police Station last week to begin gathering public input and give the community an idea of how the process would unfold. This is the first of several sessions that CT Consultants will hold with the public.
“We defined it as having three distinct phases,” said Alisa Duffey Rogers, project manager at CT Consultants. “We are currently in the first phase, which is really this information gathering and evaluation phase.”
Once this first step is completed, CT Consultants will write a report compiling the proposed changes to the current design guide. City officials will then evaluate those suggestions, after which the process will move to phase two — drafting the revised guidelines and further modifying them as directed by the city.
“And then, in Phase 3, we will provide the new design guidelines update document to the city, and the city will begin the adoption process,” Duffey Rogers said. From start to finish, the project is expected to take about eight months.
Along the way, there will be more opportunities to participate, she said.
“There will be [today’s] meeting and you can give us your comments at any time,” Susel said, “and then there will be another meeting once we have completed the preliminary comments. And you can also speak at council committee sessions.”
Doug Fuller, a retired architect who has practiced in Kent for over 40 years, asked if there would be a summary of the curated information made available to the public once the feedback phase is complete.
“You’re collecting a ton of information, it would be great for all of us to be able to dive into it with you and see what it looks like,” he said.
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Duffey Rogers said the plan is to compile a recommendations report, which will include recommendations as well as a summary of what they heard from the community.
Susel said once prepared, the report will be made available to the public and posted on the city’s website.
At last week’s meeting, the consultants asked participants to choose from a number of photos of town center buildings and street scenes which they felt best represented Kent town centre.
Participants were also asked what the aims of the new guidelines should be, what they thought of a variety of proposed signs and to show on a map of Kent town center using stickers, where they work, live and play.
Ryan Tipton, co-founder of Bell Tower Brewing Co. at the corner of Gougler and Park avenues, said he initially worried that there wasn’t enough community input built into the guidelines.
“I still wonder how many there will be, hoping there will be many,” he said. “Tonight was a little eye-opening just to get to know and understand their journey. I think having just one more public meeting is probably too little.”
He added that public comment meetings can be a mine of valuable feedback from neighbors and business owners.
Mayor Jerry Fiala said he was positive about what he heard at the meeting, but would remain neutral.
“I want to know what people have to say about where Kent’s direction should be,” Fiala said.
Tom Hatch, board member of the Kent Historical Society and member of the Main Street Kent design committee, said the process developed by CT Consultants to address the review of the design guidelines was good.
“Obviously there are a lot of people who would like even more contribution opportunities, but I think there are a lot of those along the way,” Hatch said.
CT Consultants met with the city council
Following the public meeting, CT Consultants met with City Council, where the distinction between guidelines and standards took center stage.
Duffey Rogers asked council what the role of the city’s Architectural Review Board was.
Councilor Roger Sidoti said he thought it made sense for the ARB to continue to look at signs, facade modification and new construction.
However, he said that if you create a standard for signage, ARB’s job becomes easier. Enforcement becomes more difficult, he said, if there is only one guideline – one suggestion – regarding, for example, signage.
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“To some extent, yes,” Duffey Rogers said. “What the guidelines do, and I hate to repeat myself, but they really guide the conversation, and they tell the candidate upfront what the architecture review board thinks. And that gives the candidate the opportunity to think of either a conventional way of meeting that guideline, or an unconventional way. But either way, they know from the start what’s important and what the community values, and what the architecture review board examines.
It’s up to the community to decide if they want codified standards in the zoning code, a separate document containing only guidelines, or a document containing both, she said. From there, the administration of these documents becomes relevant.
“Depending on how you define the role of your architecture review board, whether it’s advisory or whether it has final authority, that also determines whether or not someone can deviate from these standards,” said Duffey Rogers. The option exists to choose the function of the ARB in specific cases.
Susel pointed out that a violation of the zoning code is a civil offense.
“If something became a standard, it would be codified and staff would administer it the same way we do all other zoning codes. We issue fines until compliance is met,” a- she declared. “If it becomes a guideline, we can … determine what kind of authority we would like to give it.”
The consulting firm plans to meet with the board again to gather more information.
“The more input, the better,” Susel said. “There’s a lot of complexities and layers to this, but it’s really important that you get that feedback to [Hopkins] and [Duffey Rogers] so we can make sure we’re really looking at this thoroughly.”
Contact reporter Derek Kreider at [email protected]