State College, PA - Centre County - Central Pennsylvania - Home of Penn State University

Higher-End Student Housing Proposed for Waupelani Drive Area

on January 31, 2011 9:12 AM

A Georgia-based company is hoping to build a 129-unit student-housing development along Waupelani Drive, planning documents show.

The developer, Landmark Properties, of Athens, Ga., has a contract to buy about 22 undeveloped acres that stretch from the Borough of State College southeast into College Township, company Vice President Jason Dorrenbos said.

On its northwestern edge, the acreage fronts the south side of Waupelani Drive -- just behind the Westerly Parkway Plaza shopping center. The land extends to the area of West Whitehall Road, which sits in the township. All the acreage is owned right now by a New York-based real-estate group, State College Joint Venture Associates.

A preliminary design submitted to borough and township authorities shows an upscale residential development there, to be geared toward Penn State students. It would be called The Retreat, with an entrance facing Waupelani Drive, the sketches show.

"What attracts us to State College is the size of the university," Dorrenbos told "It's a great school; it's got a lot of students; it's growing. And there's a shortage of student housing there."

The Landmark website outlines the company's prior student-oriented projects in Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia and Texas. Its approach is to build "craftsman-style cottages" -- essentially a  collection of professionally managed houses, each of which can be home to multiple residents.

"We've gone to a lot of towns where there's been a lot of opposition to student housing," Dorrenbos said. "We've always been able to get people comfortable with our projects."

He said Landmark "typically (builds) the higher-end-type product" and often fetches rent rates about 25 percent higher than the market average for student housing. Its amenities include substantial green space, open floor plans, a pool area, a fitness center, professional landscaping and private shuttle services.

For the Waupelani Drive site, Landmark is proposing 129 dwellings overall. Ninety-five of them would be on the College Township portion of the acreage; 49 of those would be dubbed "single-family units," and 46 would be multi-family units, according to planning documents.

To enable the plans, Landmark has asked the township to rezone about 18.4 acres from their smaller-scale residential designation to a planned-residential-development zone.

The proposal would increase the allowable density on the acreage from about three to about five residential units per acre. Landmark also is seeking permission to house as many as five unrelated tenants in each single-family unit in the township. The current limit is three unrelated tenants.

Township planning commissioners are expected to take up the matter at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, with the township Council to follow at 7 p.m. Thursday. Both meetings will be held at the township municipal building, 1481 E. College Ave., State College.

In the borough portion of the proposal, Landmark is looking to build 36 dwelling units on 3.6 acres of land. It was not immediately clear whether a zoning change may be needed for that area, or how the borough may respond to the proposal. The borough planning department was not immediately available for comment late Friday.

But a borough Planning Commission agenda shows that commissioners will hear about the matter at a noon meeting Wednesday. It's set for room 304 at the State College Municipal Building, 243 S. Allen St.

Mark Holdren, a senior regional planner assigned to College Township, has reviewed the Landmark proposal. He said he doesn't see any major problems with the density proposed for the township side -- as long as traffic is managed well and neighborhood buffers are established.

The proposed site is well within the regional growth boundary.

"I think the homes they're proposing are rather nice-looking," Holdren said. He also noted the proposed green space, which would top eight acres, as a highlight.

"Overall, I think it could be a nice project for the township as well as the borough," Holdren said.

Other elements of the proposal include these details:

  • A total of 566 parking spaces are proposed -- 547 of them for residents.
  • Dwellings would include large front porches, meant to encourage "social interaction along a pedestrian-friendly internal streetscape."
  • Buffer areas would be developed between the complex and nearby neighborhoods.
  • Tenants would be required to follow "community policies," including restrictions on gathering hours and frequency.
  • Overall residential density would be less than six units an acre.
  • Management and security would be provided on site, including a resident police officer and a 10- to 12-member staff overseeing maintenance and management.

Dorrenbos said the overarching concept is for a lower-density project where students "can live in a community with other college kids."

He noted that many college towns -- such as State College -- limit the number of unrelated students who can rent and live together in former single-family homes. Those rules mean that a lot of students are living illegally in residential areas of college towns, Dorrenbos said.

A project like The Retreat, he said, can ease that pressure and be a benefit for the community at large.

He said Landmark is so early in its planning process that it hasn't approached would-be neighbors for their input. "But we will," Dorrenbos added.

The company is hopeful that it might be able to finish and open the development by fall 2013, he said. For now, he said, the company remains in its "due diligence" stage.

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