The most recent in a series of public hearings about rezoning the Hilltop area of College Township is slated for Thursday night, as the issue continues to gather supporters and opponents.
When the Hilltop Mobile Home Park closed in February 2013, it opened a wide area ripe for development. Park owners Kenneth and Sharon Mayes asked for their property to be rezoned for higher-density residential use, and were hoping to sell to Indiana-based developer Trinitas Ventures.
Rezoning options were debated for several months, but things changed in November after Trinitas’ proposal had fallen through. Pat Ward, of Uni-Tec Consulting Engineers, representing the Mayeses, proposed dividing the 30-acre site into separate areas of gateway commercial, R-2 residential and parkland/open space.
From the start, nearby residents began expressing concern over allowing high-density apartments in the area, and the issue of buffers between the zones and the existing residential areas was addressed early on.
Never miss a local story.
The issue of building height had entered the discussion in March, with the possibility of 55 foot-tall buildings encroaching on adjacent residential neighborhoods. The Centre Regional Planning Commission at that time recommended making the entire property a gateway commercial zoning district.
Gateway commercial zoning allows for a mix of commercial and residential uses.
In May, the College Township Council had voted against a proposal that would have made the former park gateway commercial space. While the proposal had failed, Township Council Chairman Eric Bernier and Vice Chairwoman Mary Shoemaker indicated they sought more clarity with the plan and did not oppose it.
Councilwoman Carla Stilson had previously said that she opposed the gateway proposition and would have preferred to see the property combined with less dense R-1 or R-2 zoning.
In June, council approved changes that limited the density and size of residential buildings and tightened height restrictions within 300 feet of R-1 property, such as a single-family residence.
Over the summer, council continued to gather public input, and additional issues continued to be addressed. Some residents were concerned about increased traffic in the area, as well as the ability for Squirrel Drive to handle an influx of vehicles.
Township Manager Adam Brumbaugh said then that talk of closing the road was “premature.”
Some residents at public hearings wondered if the township could ban student rental housing on the property. But township solicitor Louis Glantz quashed that idea, saying the prohibition would not hold up in court, but that restrictions on the number of students renting were sustainable.
During this time, the area in question expanded with the addition of two residential properties and a commercial lot containing the Happy Valley Brewing Co.
The summer also brought further modifications to the proposal. A buffer zone between the proposed gateway-zoned property and the Thompson Woods Preserve was removed to allow for a natural buffer of vegetation. In addition, the Centre Regional Planning Commission added a stipulation that any building within 150 feet of any single-family residence must be 35 feet tall or less.
While the owners of the Hilltop property and other property owners with the proposed gateway commercial zone seem satisfied with the regulations recommended by the board, neighboring residents have shared their reservations with council.
Richard and Cindy Alley, who live on Shamrock Avenue, expressed in an email to council that residents would encounter increased traffic caused by high-density housing development.
“Any development that generates much traffic by school bus, car, bicycle or foot will thus cause problems for residents of the township as a whole,” they wrote, “and for present and future members of the (c)ouncil as well as for neighbors of the site.”
In their letter to council, Ryan Etzel, Bob Kovack, Brian Miller, Robert Baker and Jon Jones, all on Hill Drive, contested changing the drive from R-2 zoning to gateway commercial, requesting that the zoning remain R-2 with a buffer from the property line.
“Our objections are based on the fact that the change to a commercial zoning would substantially reduce our quality of living by incurring more traffic and crime,” they wrote, “creating more noise, obscuring our view and decreasing our property value.”
Council members and township representatives could not be reached for comment.
Brumbaugh in July pointed out that requesting so many requirements on residential units almost defeats the purpose of having a gateway zone.
“You reach a point where you place so many restrictions on a zone and on potential properties that you won’t achieve what you set out to develop,” he said then. “If you continue to make downward revisions, you’re going to preclude the type of development you want to see, which is mixed-use.”