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State College Council Blocks Road-Closure Proposal; 18-Month Plan Called Excessive

on October 04, 2011 8:20 AM

With a hail of criticism, State College Borough Council refused to allow Monday the proposed closure of a downtown street.

Representatives of HFL Corp., set to build a seven-story student-apartment building at Hetzel Street and East Beaver Avenue, have requested to close the 100 block of Hetzel from Beaver to Calder Way for as many as 18 months during the construction process.

The closure, if approved, could begin as soon as this fall, HFL representatives said Monday. They plan to use multiple cranes to deconstruct two existing buildings and build the new one, they said.

But the council voted 6-1 Monday night to deny the closure request, with a majority of members arguing that the proposed inconvenience seems excessive and somewhat avoidable.

"I live on Hetzel Street," which is a major thoroughfare for the East Highlands neighborhood, Borough Council President Ron Filippelli told HFL representatives. "It would be a major inconvenience to close this for 18 months. ... I think this is absolutely excessive."

He went on to say the overall apartment-building concept, which complies with borough regulations, "will detract from the neighborhood."

"There's no positive outcome from this for the residents of the Highlands," Filippelli said. "While I understand the construction is going to happen, I'm going to have to vote against this" extended road-closure request.

He said HFL's representatives "have to find another way" to handle the construction process.

Likewise, council member Silvi Lawrence told HFL representatives: "I would do everything possible to reconsider your request."

"The full 18 months sounds rather frightening to me, especially when it (includes) some very sensitive months," such as during Penn State's football season, council member Don Hahn said.

But council member Jim Rosenberger -- who, like Filippelli, lives in the adjacent Highlands neighborhood -- said that increasing the borough's tax base with new construction "does (bear) a little bit of a disruption." He called the proposed closure "a very small inconvenience."

"I'll be happy to put up with it," Rosenberger said. He cast the sole vote in favor of the proposal.

HFL representatives underscored that the project plan already includes "considerable improvements" -- at a six-figure expense -- requested by the borough staff. They also said the new building, to extend from Beaver Avenue the whole way to Calder Way, will require a considerable construction-staging area.

The company may return to council with another proposal for handling the construction process, Mayor Elizabeth Goreham said. Tentatively, work on the project -- at the northwest corner of the Hetzel-Beaver intersection -- may begin as soon as November; builders are aiming for completion by summer 2013.

In other news at the Monday council meeting:

  • The council heard a brief update on the Fraser Street realignment project at West Beaver Avenue. In an interview afterward, public-works Director Mark Whitfield said heavy work on the project should be substantially complete -- and Fraser Street fully reopened -- by the first week in November. First, though, crews will need to close the 100 block of Fraser Street during the week of Oct. 24, he said. That will allow workers to finish some key elements of the project, including a new entryway for the Fraser Street parking garage, Whitfield said. He said the garage will be closed when Fraser Street closes the week of Oct. 24, but both may reopen as soon as Oct. 28.
  • Council members heard public input on proposed trash-collection changes. Five residents spoke, all in favor of the concept. It would streamline trash collection with more-automated equipment and expand the availability and ease of organic-waste collection throughout the borough. Council members appeared generally to favor the expansion of organic-waste collection, but a few aired several concerns. Those centered partly on the upfront expense of the effort and a proposed requirement for new refuse-collection bins. Another point of concern: All refuse would need to be placed in those new bins for collection, whereas current practice allows residents to put some refuse curbside without bins. Discussion about the issue will continue at the council's Oct. 17 meeting.
  • Council voted 4-3 to advance a rezoning proposal for part of East Beaver Avenue. It would raise the maximum new-building height to 55 feet -- up from 36 feet -- along the south side of the thoroughfare from South Garner Street roughly to Locust Lane. Some dissenters said the proposal is, in effect, spot zoning. But others said that rezoning is warranted in that downtown stretch, part of which is zoned only for low-density development. The rezoning proposal was written largely in response to a request from HFL, which wants to build a new apartment building at 254 E. Beaver Ave. Rosenberger said the additional student housing would help alleviate pressure on single-family neighborhoods, where houses are occasionally converted into student rentals. Discussion is scheduled to continue Oct. 10.

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