As borough planners continue to meet with neighborhoods this winter, common themes continue, like residents who enjoy living within walking distance of amenities and who consider proximity to Penn State students both a strength and weakness.
In February, planning staff and the Planning Commission held public meetings for residents in the State College South, Tusseyview and Holmes-Foster neighborhoods, as part of the effort this year to compile a broad neighborhood plan. Some neighborhoods have individual plans from the 1990s and early 2000s.
Already, planners have met with residents of the Highlands, College Heights and Greentree. Coming this week are meetings with Vallamont and Nittany Hills, Tuesday at Grace Lutheran Church, and Orchard Park, Thursday at South Hills School of Business and Technology on Waupelani Drive. Both meetings start at 7 p.m.
The meetings allow residents to speak openly about their neighborhoods, offering strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Planners will use the information to create sub-chapters about each neighborhood, giving unique characteristics of each and determining common attributes.
Meagan Tuttle, a planning staffer who has collected statistics about each neighborhood, said the meetings have been well-attended and residents have been “very open” about sharing their thoughts.
“We’re hearing a lot that State College neighborhoods are desirable places to live,” she said. “They’re close to amenities, to schools and parks, but they still feel they’re close to downtown and campus, so we thought that was a good thing to hear.”
Residents also have offered the borough constructive criticism, like a need for increased maintenance at some parks, a desire to improve relationships between student and permanent residents, and a need for improvements to street lights, bike facilities and some sidewalks.
The South neighborhood is bordered approximately by South Atherton Street, University Drive/Extension and Easterly Parkway. According to 2010 U.S. census data, there are 1,313 residents, about 3 percent of the borough population. Of 620 occupied housing units, about half are owner-occupied and half are rentals.
Tusseyview sits on the other side of South Atherton from South, also bordered approximately by University Drive Extension, West Whitehall Road, Waupelani Drive, O’Bryan Lane and Westerly Parkway. With 896 residents, Tusseyview represents about 2 percent of the borough population. Of 441 occupied housing units, like South, about half are owner-occupied and half are rentals.
Many residents said they appreciate the nearness to campus, but with enough distance to create a pleasant atmosphere. They also praised being on or near bus routes, the ability to walk to shops and schools, and the relative quiet.
Cited problems included traffic congestion and speeding — common themes in other neighborhoods — nonresident parking on local streets, and loud weekend parties in some student housing areas. A few residents also criticized the recent addition of a new sign at the Westerly Parkway Plaza, which is constantly lit and blocks the view of Oneida Street, according to one resident.
“We on Aikens Place can see it,” added resident Mike Shigley. “At first, I thought it was that someone had a spotlight on at their home, but I realized it was the sign.”
Residents also are concerned about what will happen when The Retreat comes online this fall. The nearly 600-bed student housing complex is under construction between Waupelani Drive and Whitehall Road.
“Coming from the Highlands, the squeaky wheel gets the grease,” said commission member Mike Roeckel. “You don’t want to be shy about calling the police. We actually have some police patrolling the Highlands on weekends from all the squeaky wheel reports that they got.”
Holmes-Foster sits approximately between Railroad Avenue, South Atherton Street, Westerly Parkway, Buckhout Street and Highland Alley. A larger neighborhood, it has 4,839 residents, about 11.5 percent of the borough population. Out of 2,046 occupied housing units, about 16 percent are owner-occupied and 84 percent are rentals. There are 29 registered student homes.
Residents like the diversity of the neighborhood, from young families, to students, to retirees, as well as the green spaces, proximity to schools and historic component — it’s a national historic district.
Joe Nichisti, president of Penn State’s Off-Campus Student Union, said he feels students are welcomed there more than in other neighborhoods.
“I would say the relations that I see between the students and residents are probably the best” in the borough, he said.
Weaknesses included a lack of stop signs, allowing speeding along some streets. Sparks Street and Foster Avenue was cited as a particularly bad intersection. They also named rental property owners who don’t maintain the homes and Atherton Street traffic noise as problems.
Both students and permanent residents said it would be nice to have more opportunities to meet their neighbors.
In addition to the neighborhood meetings, two groups of Penn State students are organizing pilot data collection programs.
One class will start Monday delivering surveys to South, Tusseyview, Holmes-Foster and Orchard Park residents. It will be available on paper or online and ask residents what skills and assets they have that they’d be willing to contribute to the good of the neighborhood, like a teenager interested in baby-sitting, or someone who can mow the lawn of an elderly neighbor.
Another student class will conduct a walking audit in College Heights and the Highlands, analyzing bike and pedestrian paths and facilities.