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Public Hearing Set On Proposal for High-Rise Buildings

by on March 03, 2015 6:40 AM

After months of hard work, the State College Planning Commission presented the proposed collegiate housing amendment to the borough council on Monday night.

The collegiate overlay would allow for increased building height on the 500 block of College Avenue if developers meet incentivized requirements.

Ed LeClear, the borough planning director, provided council with a thorough report on the proposed ordinance change.

“The commission has spent nine months of work in our meetings to date,” LeClear said. “The current ordinance would provide seven floors of student housing and we wanted to look at whether we could have more variety in the uses of floors on that block.”

Jeff Haas, who owns Kildare’s restaurant at 528 E. College Ave., initially approached the commission with the amendment concept as part of a plan to develop a high-rise building on the site.

As it stands, the amendment would allow for up to 11 stories and 124 feet if the developer makes the bottom floor a commercial space, provides two floors of underground parking, and devotes two floors entirely to non-undergraduate housing.

Borough council members agreed to hold a public hearing on April 13 in order to gauge public opinion on the issue. At that time, the course of action for the proposed collegiate overlay district will likely be determined, though it seems to have support from most of the council.

Councilwoman Theresa Lafer, however, isn’t sold on the idea of a high-rise building on the edge of town. Lafer voiced concerns over the basis for the zoning change, which she says is a misguided argument that people don’t currently live in that neighborhood.

“The idea that as you drive into town you have a single building or even three of them at 11 stories is actually appalling. One of the things I find most irritating about this conversation is when somebody waltzes into these meetings, usually a developer, and says that nobody lives there,” Lafer says. “If you want to come walk around that neighborhood with me and knock on doors to see that people do live in that neighborhood – real people, not just students -- I’d be happy to do that with you.”

Despite the proposed amendment including incentives for adding professional/graduate student housing to avoid a building filled with undergraduate students, councilman Thomas Daubert worries that that project will be too focused on students.

“We need to have a discussion and make sure that what we’re doing down there is not entirely student-oriented because if it is, we’re not really doing what we want to do in State College,” he says.

Councilman Evan Myers was more impressed by the presentation. Myers thanked LeClear and the commission for a thorough report on the amendment and the various development opportunities for the area.

“To Ed and the planning commission, that’s the most comprehensive summarization on something like this that I’ve ever seen,” Myers says. “It walked through all the steps of what’s possible with the restrictions under the current ordinance and what would be possible if we go forward with this amendment. It gave a lot of information and I want to thank the planning commission for that.”

Later in the meeting, council heard a sustainability report from Alan Sam, the borough environmental coordinator. Sam brought up a potential ordinance to ban vehicles from idling unnecessarily in town.

“It makes our neighborhoods unattractive and some of these trucks can really fill up a house with fumes when they’re idling as they unload or whatever it may be,” Lafer says.

Council president James Rosenberger supports the idea. He explains that some European countries even make people shut off engines for the minute or two that they sit at red lights.

“I don’t think we should go that far, but I would like to see an ordinance come up along these lines,” he says.

Myers similarly backed the sentiment of an ordinance that would prevent air pollution in the borough, though he questioned where council’s ire has been on the natural gas power plant that Penn State wants to build on West College Avenue.

“If we’re so concerned about this, I don’t know why we didn’t speak out on this issue when the university decided to put a power plant by town that will put more pollutants into the air than any collective group of idling cars downtown ever would,” he says.

The council also passed a change to its ordinance on Student Home Licenses, establishing a fee to hold the license. It will cost property owners $1,000 including a $10 annual renewal fee and a $25 change of ownership fee to register a local resident as a student home.

LeClear says that there are over 300 student homes currently in the borough, with upwards of 1,300 residences that could qualify as such.

 

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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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