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Borough Council to Vote on East College Avenue High Rise Buildings

by on June 15, 2015 11:00 PM

The controversial amendment that would allow high rise buildings on East College Avenue is coming to a head and could be settled in just a few weeks.

Borough council voted on Monday night in favor of setting a July 6 date to take action on the proposed collegiate housing overlay amendment.

The proposal would allow for buildings up to 11 stories tall in the 500 block of East College Avenue. The high-rises would need commercial space on the first floor, and to get from the current maximum of seven stories to 11 stories, developers would need to include two floors of professional/graduate student housing, additional commercial space, along with sustainable building materials and features.

The idea was brought to council by Jeff Haas, who owns 538 E. College Ave., the site of Kildare's restaurant. Haas wants to go vertical at one of the major gateways to State College in what some people think is an underdeveloped area of downtown.

Council discussed the proposed amendment and heard from residents before voting on the action date.

"I just wanted to bring to your attention that there’s a petition going around online," says Smita Bharti, who created the Change.org petition. "At this moment it has 116 supporters and asks that you please don’t approve this. It’s a bad idea and will cause traffic issues. We don’t know what the impact of the Metropolitan is yet."

The Metropolitan, which is currently under construction, will be a high-rise multi-use apartment building at the corner of West College Avenue and North Atherton Street.

On the other side of the argument is resident Al Drobka, who wants to see the town replace older buildings.

"As our buildings get older downtown, I think this is an opportunity for incentives to build new buildings and have a diverse population within the buildings that adds to what we have to offer downtown," he says.

While council was generally split on the proposed amendment as it made its way through the legislative process, the group seemed to largely favor the idea at Monday night's meeting. Theresa Lafer was a strongly vocal opponent of the collegiate housing overlay at one point, but she switched sides somewhere along the way.

"I am 100 percent certain that if we do nothing, that section of town will atrophy," Lafer says. "There will be entropy and buildings will fall into disrepair and the neighborhood will be hurt."

While she understands some of the concerns people have with the proposal, Lafer points out that under the current zoning laws, a developer could still build up to seven stories on the block without any incentive to provide graduate student and professional housing.

"People have contradicted each other. People have misunderstood each other," she says. "And they’re all sincere and right at one level or another, but I think there are some real confusions. There’s going to be an increase in population here and everywhere, and we can’t do anything about that."

As she puts it, the borough can't house new students in the Cloud, as appealing as that might be to some residents. With the collegiate housing overlay incentivizing developers to build mixed-use structures, it can act as a natural buffer for the neighborhood, says councilman Evan Myers.

"Whenever you have mixed uses, that tends to be a calming device in that area," he says. "That’s one of the main reasons why this has been put forth and looked at by the planning commission. Simply to leave it alone however would remove that mixed-use and remove the ability to have those calming techniques put into place."

The coming vote could be a landmark decision for the borough. State College already has two high rise buildings under construction, and passing this amendment could mean a whole lot of height in another downtown corner.

"This will be one of the first things someone sees after going through the gateway and will be part of the entrance to the town if it’s ever built," councilman Peter Rosenberger says. "It’ll be great if it’s something we can be proud of."

 

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Zach Berger is the managing editor of StateCollege.com. He graduated from Penn State University in 2014 with a degree in print journalism. Zach enjoys writing about a variety of topics ranging from football to government, music, and everything in between.
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