Friday, May 14, 2021

Neighborhood rallies to save park from development

STATE COLLEGE — A group of residents are rallying behind a small park in State College after a developer announced plans to construct a four-story affordable housing development that would encroach upon it.

The site targeted lies at 1306 South Atherton Street; preliminary plans call for a 9,300-square-foot building with 34 parking spaces at the former home of the Recumbent Bicycle Riders.Explore Microsoft SecurityGet nearly 100% coverage across attack chain stages.Ad By Microsoft See More

These plans then would encroach upon a large open field of Nittany Village Park, effectively taking space where kids now play ball and pet owners walk their dogs.

Residents, such as Jim Meyer, whose property borders the park, were made aware of the potential development last fall by State College Borough. Word of an April 17 meeting with those neighboring residents and the borough reached other members of the community, who then expressed interest in attending. Borough officials, expecting a large turnout, felt such a meeting could violate advertising conditions of the Sunshine Act, thus forcing them to cancel the gathering.

Although the meeting was nixed, a large group of community residents gathered on April 17 to show their support for the park.

“What I would like to see is that the staff and council would get together and drop the idea of using any of this park land for commercial development,” said Meyer. He said hopes the staff could work with the developer on a plan for the commercial property that does not include infringement on the park area, or, find another place for the development.

Meyer said he understands the need for affordable housing in State College, but he does not think it should be developed in an area that is a long-standing community park.

“No one is against affordable housing. This borough needs affordable housing … more of it. What we are against is using the park for affordable housing. They need to be on equal footing. You can’t be destroying green space,” said Meyer. “This is a neighborhood park.”

Heather Ricker-Gilbert, a longtime resident of the area, said she remembers going to the small neighborhood “pocket” park when she was young. Now, her grandchildren go to the park when they visit.

“If they take this park, than who is to say they won’t take other parks? There are 55 parks in State College” said Ricker-Gilbert.

Although the park is small in size at about a half-acre, Ricker-Gilbert said it is important to the community, and she is concerned about the precedent that will be established should the developer be allowed to develop within the park.

“It is a green space where children play and people can get together. It also serves as a buffer for us from the commercial district and the highway traffic. It has beautiful trees and serves as a place where people can go to get away. It serves what a park is supposed to do. We need to have as many parks as we can in this community,” she said. “I just think it would be tragic to take a park that has been here for 85 years and turn it into a development.”

The sketch plans show that the playground would remain, however, that area would abut the parking lot of the new development.

The Gazette attempted to reach HFL Corp. developer Ara Kervandjian for comment, but phone calls were not returned as of press time Wednesday.

Borough officials said they are still waiting for the full proposal from the developer. When the municipality receives it, an official, posted meeting will be held and the public will be permitted to share comments and concerns.