Proposed student housing draws concerns in Ferguson Township

jvanderk@centredaily.comNovember 19, 2013 

— Though four housing complexes for students came online this year, the developer of another proposed complex said there’s still more demand.

Richard Keyser of developer Toll Bros. told the Board of Supervisors Monday night that his firm’s market study of 95 apartment complexes in the region showed an overall vacancy rate of .04 percent.

“The conclusion of the report, and we agree with it, is there is still demand for new, up-to-date, quality, well-managed student housing,” Keyser said.

The proposed development would house 1,544 students in apartments and townhouses near the intersection of Whitehall Road and Blue Course Drive.

The design team for the complex presented to the Board of Supervisors Monday, and did so at last week’s Planning Commission meeting.

Toll Bros. anticipates submitting a planned residential development plan — which offers more flexibility to a developer and allows the township to place terms and conditions on a plan — by the end of the year. They anticipate construction starting next fall.

The complex will feature mainly indoor amenities, allowing residents to visit a clubhouse, fitness center and more without leaving the building.

Two big issues for the board and audience members were the parking plans and how to categorize the complex.

Developers are suggesting 0.8 parking spaces per bedroom, based on the assumption that many residents will ride Centre Area Transportation Authority buses to campus. The preliminary concept plan includes CATA routes into the property.

Supervisors didn’t think that amount of parking would be sufficient. Chairman George Pytel said he “wasn’t sure about” planning less than one space per person.

“Parking is going to be an issue,” said Supervisor Drew Clemson. “You’re going to have to address football weekends.”

However, Supervisor Bill Keough said he thinks officials have “over-parked” the region and that Toll Bros. will see a negative impact from too little parking before the township.

Steve Miller, who was elected to serve on the board starting in 2014, pointed out the complex is not within a comfortable walking distance to amenities like a grocery store, agreeing that less parking won’t work.

“I think that we should be looking at the feasibility of structured parking,” he said. “I think with this size, if you had parking permits, I really find it hard to believe that structured parking is completely out of the range.”

Keyser had said previously a structure wasn’t financially feasible.

There also was some conflict Monday over the “student housing” label. As Pytel often points out, Ferguson does not zone for housing specifically for students. He said if developers won’t give all residents the ability to live there, the board won’t approve it.

Resident Dick Anderson said he finds the discussion hypocritical.

“I do find it hypocritical when we get into these situations and have a board that insists we have no student housing, ha ha, when it negatively affects so many people in the township,” he said. “It’s student housing. Don’t pass it off as something else.”

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

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