College Township Council candidates talk Hilltop rezoning

jvanderk@centredaily.comOctober 30, 2013 

  • Eric Bernier, 56

    Occupation: Service development manager for Centre Area Transportation Authority

    Political experience: College Township Council (January 2013-present), College Township Planning Commission (1997-2012)

    Education: State College High School (1975), Penn State (1975-1979), U.S. Army Reserves (1979-1985)

    Family: Wife, Tracy; two sons

    Lynn Herman, 56

    Occupation: Government relations/business development consultant

    Political experience: State representative for 24 years, chairman of House Local Government Committee for 10 years, Local Government Commission and Policy Committee for 10 years

    Education: Bachelor’s degrees in political science and history (1978), master’s of public administration (1980) from University of Pittsburgh

    Family: Wife

    Steven Lyncha, 39

    Occupation: Regional manager for land development, HRG Inc.

    Political experience: College Township Planning Commission since 2012

    Education: Penn State (1997), U.S. Army Reserves, Pennsylvania National Guard

    Family: Wife

    Carla Stilson, 31

    Occupation: Homemaker, property manager, childbirth educator and doula

    Political experience: None

    Education: Bachelor’s degree in secondary education, Penn State

    Family: Husband, Scott; two children

As another request is anticipated to come before the College Township Council in November, it’s certain that new council members will be part of the discussion on how to rezone the site of the former Hilltop Mobile Home Park.

Four candidates are seeking three council seats in the Nov. 5 municipal general election.

Seeking one of two available four-year terms are Eric Bernier, Lynn Herman and Steven Lyncha. Seeking a partial, two-year term are Herman and Carla Stilson. Bernier and Stilson will run as Democrats, and Herman and Lyncha as Republicans.

Bernier initially was opposed to the original request to rezone the Hilltop site, which called for higher-density R3 residential. Now he says the move to rezone and, in the future, develop the site is on the right track.

He said zoning is the “single most effective planning tool” for the township and that the uses within should be consistent with residents’ “shared vision and goals.”

“We should always be evaluating allowed uses,” he said. “When a rezoning is requested, it magnifies those uses. Zoning is big with me because it always starts there.”

Bernier said he’s learned that the township’s population is spread evenly across the five U.S. Census age ranges, and that the key is for the council to try to balance the needs of each demographic.

“Using the parks is an example,” he said. “Take someone who places a very high value on recreation opportunities. To them a small investment of your tax dollars is a huge return on your investment. But somebody who’s living on a fixed income and doesn’t intend to sell their house, their biggest concern is the tax burden.”

On the issue of finances, Herman said developing the annual budget is the biggest priority at the local or state level. He said his goal will be to ensure the township “holds the line” on taxes and keeps spending within budgetary limits.

“And that our expenditures that provide for vital street and neighborhood services are provided the most cost-effectively,” he added.

Hilltop is a high priority after budget work, Herman said, and he’d like to see more affordable housing at the site.

“I am adamantly opposed to rezoning that would allow for more student housing,” he said. “I think the parcel is most suitable for low- to no-income affordable housing.”

Herman said he supports the most recent rezoning request, which includes open spaces and commercial zoning along East College Avenue.

“I think the most recent proposal by the landowners is a relief, and I think that’s one that’s going to receive a lot of attention and cooperation by the current board,” he said.

Lyncha said he also supports the current direction of the Hilltop rezoning and was “not really” in favor of the original mix of lower-density R1 and R2 residential zoning.

“I’m encouraged that this might go in a good direction,” he said. “I’m in favor of taking the time to get it right instead of rushing something that might not be in the best interest of the landowner and might not be in the best interest of the adjoining properties.”

The budget will be another hot issue, Lyncha said, and he said it’s important to avoid a property tax increase for 2014. Last year, the council approved a 0.5-mill increase for 2013.

Though the issue appears to be resolved for now, Lyncha said he had concerns about the impacts on other Centre Region municipalities related to State College’s discussion on whether to withdraw from the Centre Region Code Agency. However, the borough voted to remain with the agency.

“I’m probably not as well-known as some of the other candidates might be,” Lyncha said. “I’m in the community — on the Moshannon Valley Economic Development Partnership board of directors, I volunteer at Centre County PAWS, and I’m involved with the Centre County Natural Gas Task Force.”

As have the other candidates, Stilson said she’s “encouraged” by the direction of the Hilltop rezoning issue. That discussion was what drew Stilson into the race for council in the first place.

“It seems like we’re going to start over and work with the neighboring communities to develop it, to keep the feel of the area,” she said. “So I’m looking forward to seeing how that plays out, concerning what the owners want to do with it and how the neighbors feel about that.”

Another issue Stilson said interests her is the streetscape and traffic calming on Pike Street through Lemont. The township aims to add better pedestrian amenities to the area and Stilson said she’s watching the way the council, thus far, has worked to balance pedestrian safety and the needs and wants of local business owners.

“I’ll be interested to see what more communication avenues council will provide concerning that,” she said. Already, the township has held several open houses to receive feedback.

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

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