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Support, Concerns Voiced for Proposed HARB

by on December 05, 2017 1:08 PM

State College residents offered mixed opinions at a public hearing Monday night for the proposed Historical and Architectural Review Board.

The ordinance under consideration by borough council would create local historic districts for the Holmes-Foster/Highlands and College Heights neighborhoods. Both are historic districts in the National Register of Historic Places, but no local regulations are currently in place to maintain the historic character of the neighborhoods.

Historical and Architectural Review Board (HARB) would be created to make recommendations to approve or deny regulated activities. The ordinance has been refined since it was first proposed and focuses on additions to existing properties, demolition and new construction, but not smaller exterior maintenance projects.

The HARB would be comprised of an architect, real estate broker, building code inspector and four individuals who reside in the historic districts and have "demonstrated interest, knowledge,ability, experience or expertise in restoration, historic rehabilitation, or neighborhood conservation or revitalization."

There are 665 properties in Holmes-Foster/Highlands and 276 in College Heights in the proposed HARB boundary.

During the public hearing, numerous residents spoke over the course of about 90 minutes. Some gave total support to the ordinance, which is scheduled for a Dec. 18 vote, while others said they appreciated aspects of it but had concerns.

Jerry Wettstone, a College Heights resident and realtor, said he is in support of historic preservation but wondered if the HARB was a start toward future restrictions.

"There’s some concern about whether this is the foot in the door and we continue to get hammered with additional restrictions," he said.

Derek Canova, also a State College resident and realtor, said he did not think a HARB is a bad thing but that it may not be necessary. Increasing home values in the neighborhoods demonstrate the interest in sustaining them without a HARB. He added that the ordinance would mean increased costs and time for staff and that the regulations might better be handled through zoning.

Steven Hathaway, who lives in Holmes-Foster, said he and his wife have two children and enjoy their diverse neighborhood. He supported the idea of regulations for demolitions and new construction, but opposed those for additions. He said he is planning to make an addition to the back of his house and with the HARB it would take six months longer and add 20 percent to the cost.

Greg Hayes, of Holmes-Foster, added that in addition to increased costs for renovations, homes in a HARB are more expensive to insure.

Pamela Trout said she owns nine properties in the historic districts. The 45-day period allowed for a decision on regulated activities would be a burden to servicing her properties, she said. She added that homes in the districts are in the shadow of a commercial district not subject to historic regulations.

"I think we need more time to consider this ordinance to make sure we’re doing the right thing before we pass it," Trout said.

Councilman-elect Dan Murphy said he wants council to revisit the economic hardship provision in the ordinance. He said the section does not give a reasonable set of expectations for what would be accepted for economic hardship cases and he had concerns about residents' financial information being part of the public record through the process.

Others, however, said the HARB is important to preserve neighborhoods for the future.

Rosalie Bloom Brooks, who lives in the Highlands, said it would help preserve the unique homes of the early 20th century and that she believes it will be handled fairly and efficiently by borough staff and HARB members.

"It would be a nice legacy for us to leave for future generations," she said. "I think the HARB would be a wonderful tool and structure to have in place so that we can preserve our neighborhood."

Justin Wheeler said he has previously lived in Los Angeles and Portland and seen first hand the benefits of a HARB for maintaining a neighborhoods historic identity and how neighborhoods can lose that character without one.

"Zoning does not, in my opinion, go far enough in insuring our neighborhoods are not further degraded in order to meet market demand," he said.

He added that the borough's design review board, of which he is a former member, has little influence over the design aesthetic in neighborhoods.

Carla Hass, of College Heights, said the lack of regulation will eventually catch up with the neighborhoods if the HARB is not enacted.

"We’re going to start losing homes if we don’t and I don’t think the borough’s going to be able to buy every one that is threatened by that action," she said.

Noah Coleman said he sold his home on Garner Street last year because he "couldn't bear the neighborhood," and that without action the push for developing single-family home properties into apartments in the neighborhoods will continue.

"The HARB, maybe it’s not perfect, but I think will maintain the sense of place State College still has," he said.



Geoff Rushton is managing editor for StateCollege.com. Contact him at geoff.rushton@statecollege.com or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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