State College neighborhood meetings conclude; analysis due March 28

jvanderk@centredaily.comMarch 18, 2013 

— The borough’s planning staff finished the first part of a broad neighborhood planning process — collecting strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats from neighborhood residents.

Staff met last week with residents from Vallamont, Nittany Hills East and Penfield and Orchard Park. Since last year, they’ve also met with the Highlands, College Heights, Greentree, South, Tusseyview and Holmes-Foster.

Some of those have neighborhood plans from the 1990s and early 2000s, but the Planning Commission decided last year to work updates for all the neighborhoods into one, more comprehensive, plan.

The commission will have a summary discussion of the strengths, weaknesses, oppotunities and threats analyses at its March 28 meeting. In April, Penn State students helping with the process will present the results of two pilot programs.

One class is surveying South, Tusseyview, Holmes-Foster and Orchard Park residents about what skills and assets they have that they would contribute to the good of the neighborhood. Another class is conducting a walking audit in College Heights and the Highlands, analyzing bike and pedestrian access.

This spring and summer planners will work to turn resident issues and ideas into action items and will bring recommendations back to the neighborhoods this fall for further feedback, said staff member Meagan Tuttle.

Vallamont, Nittany Hills East and Penfield

Vallamont, one of the borough’s smallest neighborhoods, is bordered approximately by University Drive, a line between Bellaire Avenue and Evergreen Road, the east side of Walnut Spring Road, and a northern line that creates a trapezoid shape.

According to 2010 U.S. Census data, the neighborhood has 124 residents, just 0.3 percent of the borough’s population. Of 51 occupied housing units, about half are owner-occupied and half are rentals. In 2012, the neighborhood had no registered student home permits.

The census block for Vallamont includes the University Terrace Apartments on Bellaire Avenue, which accounts for most of the rental units.

Next to Vallamont are Nittany Hills East and Penfield, bordered approximately by University Drive, the east side of Walnut Spring Lane, Country Club Road, East Branch Road and a line between Royal Road/Circle and South Atherton Street.

Census data show 353 residents in that neighborhood, 0.8 percent of the borough’s population. Of 151 occupied housing units, 32 percent are rentals and 68 percent are owner-occupied. In 2012, as in Vallamont, there were no registered student home permits.

Tuesday’s meeting drew only about a dozen residents from the small neighborhoods.

They named strengths like proximity to Penn State, an elementary school, a bus route and parks. Many residents across the borough have named such strengths, especially the amenities within walking distance.

Weaknesses were more unique.

Kevin Kassab, inspections supervisor for the borough and a resident of the neighborhood, said University Drive needs more road quality and street light attention.

“I’d like to see — it being such a direct route to campus — becoming more aesthetically pleasing,” he said. “I think I’m talking about more decorative street lights — not that put out a lot of light, but that are safe for people.”

Michael Smith explained the problem of excessive deer in the last five years. He said they’re destroying vegetation in the neighborhood. His wife, Della, said they borrowed a camera to determine why the couple’s bird feeders emptied overnight, and it was the deer.

Another woman said she often sees deer running across University Drive.

“We had one family leave the development because of the concern of Lyme disease,” Della Smith said.

Orchard Park

Orchard Park, which includes a lot of multifamily housing, is bordered approximately by the south edge of Orchard Park, a small section of Westerly Parkway, O’Bryan Lane, Waupelani Drive, Whitehall Road and Blue Course Drive.

A larger area, 2010 Census data showed 4,099 residents, nearly 10 percent of the borough’s population. About two-thirds of the neighborhood are ages 18 to 34. Of 2,081 housing units, 89 percent are rentals and 11 percent are owner-occupied. In 2012, there was one registered student home.

Despite the sizable population, only about a half-dozen residents showed up to Thursday’s planning meeting. As in other neighborhoods, they praised the proximity to shopping at the Westerly Parkway Plaza, the high school and downtown State College.

Karl Mierzejewski, the most vocal attendee, called the neighborhood a “pretty tidy” place, observing that people tend to pick up after their dogs and keep litter to a minimum.

“I think that’s the first time we’ve heard that,” said planner Anne Messner. “I’m glad to hear it.”

Commissioner Jon Eich said a weakness in the neighborhood is the use of Stratford Drive as a shortcut to get to Whitehall Road, noting that traffic tends to drive faster.

Other residents said it can be hard to drive on Stratford, closer to Waupelani Drive, because the Centre Area Transportation Authority buses tend to spend short layovers at that stop, and traffic can park on both sides of the street.

Mierzejewski said the Weis Markets store is “subpar” for the number of people it serves, especially with The Retreat student housing complex coming online this fall, adding another nearly 600 people to the neighborhood.

Commissioner Mike Roeckel asked if residents had opinions of The Retreat. Some were concerned about traffic on Waupelani and parking at the site.

“That may be a problem on football weekends,” Roeckel said of where Retreat residents’ guests may park. “I don’t think anyone knows the answer to that yet.”

Jessica VanderKolk can be reached at 235-3910. Follow her on Twitter @jVanReporter.

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