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Borough Council Approves Zoning Amendment for Non-Owner Occupied Housing Downtown

State College Borough Council on Monday approved by a 4-3 vote amending the zoning ordinance to reduce the area for non-owner occupied housing in the Signature Property Development area of the Commercial Incentive District.

Council members Catherine Dauler, Janet Engeman and Evan Myers voted against the amendment.

The amendment changes the area where a floor area ratio of 5.0 is permitted for non-owner occupied housing and 1.0 for commercial. The FAR establishes the ratio of a building’s usable floor area to the size of the lot on which it is built. Essentially, the change reduces the area where large, primarily student housing complexes can be built.

The amendment limits the non-owner occupied housing section to apply to two areas. The first area is bounded by parcels in the CID that are located east of McAllister Alley, south of Calder Way, west of Garner Street and north of East Beaver Avenue. The second area is bounded by parcels in the CID that are located east of Garner St., north of Calder Way, west of Hetzel Street and south of East College Avenue.

Two property owners spoke against the amendment.

Property appraiser Chris Aumiller spoke behalf of the owners of the Glennland Building, 205 E. Beaver Ave., a nearly 90-year-old building which, though maintained has deteriorated over the years. Aumiller said the building faces obsolescence and that the owners and the borough would benefit if the existing building could be torn down and a new one built to the maximum.

He added that the demand is available for student housing. 

“Those kids want to be downtown, they’re going to be downtown,” he said. ‘The density is only going to shift. This change is not going to help.’

Nancy Slagle, one of the building’s owners said the cost of fending off the building’s deterioration is prohibitive.

“One of the last things I want to do is see it torn down.” Slagle said. ‘The building is deterioiating and it’s just going to keep going that way and you’re not going to like what you see.’

Peter Smith, one of the owners of 118 S. Atherton St., where the Imperial Motel is located, said that property isn’t being used at its best and that removing the area from the signature development area reduces incentives and options for improving it.

Council member Theresa Lafer voted in favor of the ordinance and said it was necessary to balance development in the downtown.

‘This needs to be a diverse community,’ she said. ‘Students may be and Penn State may be the economic engine. But if all you have is an engine, nobody else is on the train. There’s nothing there and you’re going no place for no good reason.’

Lafer added, ‘I want student housing to be there. I want young professionals to be there. I want new families to be there. It is a beautiful place to live. I would like to maintain its integrity, its continuity, its style.’

She said she doesn’t want to see buildings torn down only to make more student housing.

‘I think that is absolutely against what State College wants to do and be, including students and alumni,’ she said.

Myers said he was concerned with piecemeal changes to zoning.

‘We need to do a thorough zoning rewrite,’ he said. ‘We’re really just starting that now. … We need to do that as fast as possible because it impacts a lot of areas. I’m very concerned about making these kinds of changes … because the fact we don’t allow a piece of zoning to stay in place for very long causes people to rush to develop properties because they’re concerned we’re going to change it tomorrow or the next day.’

License Agreement

Council approved a three-year agreement to allow Bill Pickles Tap Room, 106 S. Allen St. to have an outdoor dining area that comes out onto the current sidewalk. 

Joe Shulman, CEO of Hotel State College, which owns the bar and restaurant, said it will be a decked extension of the dining area to allow seating for about 10. It will not increase the capacity of the establishment.

The area will be surrounded by a decorative fence and entry into the bar will be required before patrons can be seated and served. The seating area, which will be permitted to be open from April through October will allow for a 5-foot clearance at the narrowest point on the sidewalk, which is within ordinance limits, borough manager Tom Fountaine said.

Shulman said he is considering installing a retractable awning for use during inclement weather.

LGBTQ Advisory Committee

After discussions with the chair of the Penn State Commission on LGBTQ Equity to identify and address issues related to equity and inclusion, Mayor Elizabeth Goreham and Fountaine recommended the establishment of a committee to advise the council, the mayor and manager on LGBTQ matters. 

‘The Committee would be charged to engage in outreach to the LGBTQ communities, to disseminate information, encourage participation and engagement in community and civic life and to work co-operatively with other civic agencies whose activities affect LGBTQ communities, including the development and support to the Borough of State College’s Pride events and other relevant projects,’according to the borough.

The committee, which will meet quarterly and provide an annual report, will consist of: 

• State College Human Relations Commission Chair

• Penn State’s Commission on LGBTQ Equity representative

• Centre County LGBTQ Support Network representative

• Penn State’s LGBTQA Student Resource Center representative

• The State College Area School District representative

• State College Police Department representative

• Penn State’s Police Department representative

• Penn State’s LGBTQA Student Roundtable representative

• Penn State’s Queer and Trans People of Color representative

• AIDS Resource Alliance representative

• Three at-large members

Council voted unanimously to approve the establishment of the committee, but several members expressed concern that the first they had heard of it was when they received the agenda for the meeting. A motion to put the vote off until it could be discussed at a work session failed.

Student representative

Council approved the appointment of Jake Griggs as the University Park Undergraduate Association’s non-voting student representative to borough council.

Council President Tom Daubert said he would like to have received more information about the candidate before the meeting. Lafer added that she had no problem with Griggs and his qualifications, but that when the position was established, it was agreed that several candidates would be put forward and they would speak with the borough manager to determine who was the best fit. That has not happened for several years, she said.

Dauler echoed Lafer’s remarks.

‘It’s past time for UPUA to abide by requirements that were set up when this appointment was first decided upon for a representative each year from UPUA,’ she said. ‘I would say this is something council needs to be proactive about.’

Fountaine said normally the appointment would have been brought forward in April, but borough council only had one meeting last month. He said based on the information provided and conversations with Griggs, he is an appropriate candidate for the position.