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West End Zoning Plan Tabled Indefinitely in State College

on April 18, 2011 5:40 PM

Capping some six years of discussion, State College Borough Council voted 7-1 Monday to table a comprehensive zoning proposal for the borough's West End neighborhood.

Council member Jim Rosenberger cast the sole dissenting vote and briefly expressed frustration after the council rendered its decision. A few other residents in the room cheered the decision, which tables the proposal indefinitely.

The borough has spent thousands of dollars, including in consultant fees, to develop and refine the proposal since 2005. Intended for the area bounded roughly by Atherton Street, Buckhout Street, West Campus Drive and West Calder Way, the plan was meant to cultivate more-dense redevelopment, a mixture of student and permanent-resident homes, and small-scale local business.

But support for the effort waned in the past couple years, as some nearby Holmes-Foster residents worried that the proposal may bring too much residential density, too much building height and too many student residents to their area of town. Petition drives to subdue the zoning effort gathered dozens upon dozens of signatures.

"They didn't want this to turn into what someone called 'Beaver Canyon Light,'" council member Theresa Lafer said after the Monday meeting, referring to the local term for an apartment-rich stretch of East Beaver Avenue.

She said some Penn State students, too, were among those who opposed the zoning proposal, fearing an overabundance of density.

Shortly after the Monday vote, council member Don Hahn moved that the borough Planning Commission review the West End neighborhood specifically for areas that may discourage retail and other commercial uses. He said he sees "limitations as to the size of potential stores" in that area.

Council members unanimously approved Hahn's motion.

Meanwhile, West End business owner John Simbeck said, "it would be really good" if the borough could "actually put some time into infrastructure improvements" there.

Residents have been requesting such improvements for 10 years, Simbeck said.

"Whatever we try to do, guys, let's try to make it a little nicer-looking -- please," Simbeck said.

Lafer said she agrees with Simbeck's sentiment. And "I don't think it has to take forever," she said.

Council member Silvi Lawrence appeared to support that effort, as well, noting residents' earlier-stated wishes for better lighting and public trash receptacles.

The Planning Commission is expected to look anew at the West End in the coming weeks -- that is, if the commission members can "stand the sight of us" on Borough Council, Hahn said, apparently with tongue in cheek.

Also Monday, the council voted to pursue revised noise-enforcement practices for liquor-licensed bars and restaurants. Right now, the state Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement has primary responsibility for enforcing outside-noise standards at the licensed establishments.

But the State College Tavern Association has argued for turning that responsibility over to the borough police exclusively. Establishment owners have said that the borough police, who usually handle bar-noise issues only when someone complains, are more even-handed and fair in their enforcement practices.

The BLCE officers, meanwhile, will enforce noise rules regardless of whether anyone has expressed a concern, officials have said.

The borough will need to ask the state Liquor Control Board to turn over noise-enforcement authority exclusively to the municipal police force. will post additional coverage from Monday's council meeting shortly.

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