Debate over rezoning the Hilltop property in College Township came to a close Thursday when a majority of council members agreed that zoning the land as gateway commercial was the most appropriate use.
But the vote doesn’t close the book on Hilltop — not by a long shot. According to Township Council Chairman Eric Bernier, a long road lies ahead.
When asked what is next for the controversial plot of land, Bernier said Friday it’s up to the owners.
“Up to (Thursday) night, the only thing that could have been done on those sites was build a mobile home,” he said. “The handful of properties that were zoned R-2 are now gateway community, which gives some additional uses for those properties.”
Zoning shapes the use and the density of the property, he said. It’s the first tool in creating a development.
When a property owner comes in with a plan that follows the allowed use and density, he said, that’s when the next step occurs — the land development plan.
“Issues like traffic, development, noise, that’s all dealt with at the development plan stage,” Bernier said.
“There are a lot of possibilities for the land development plan, and what we were hearing (Thursday) were worse-case scenarios. Which is fair. Those things have to be considered.”
He said any time a rezoning issue comes up, some people are happy, others are not. Since the original proposal, residents have been engaged, both formally and informally, with the Hilltop question on and off for two years.
Bernier said he hopes “with all his heart” that the development plans will reflect the positive vision the council has for the site. He believes years from now the property will represent a healthy mix of environments beneficial to everyone.
Some gave the council praise, including Hill Drive resident Jon Vickers-Jones, who said in an email that the council “showed your true worth and colors by sitting through the last stages of what has been a long and trying saga.”
“I thought the process went very well,” Bernier said. “As for the result, how you like the result depends on what you wanted.”
However, if the comments of a majority of the residents in attendance Thursday were any indication, many local people opposed the gateway zoning.
Greg Johnson, a Shamrock Avenue resident, said in an email he was “was very disappointed that College Township Council missed a golden opportunity to address the current affordable family housing shortfall that exists within the immediate State College area.
“I thought our council would be more visionary — but I was sadly mistaken.”
Johnson said he is interested in seeing what other residents are planning on doing, including Cottonwood Avenue resident Dave Porter.
During the public hearing discussing the zoning of Hilltop, Porter stated that if the council voted on the gateway proposal, legal action may be in order, and he encouraged others to stand up and join him in agreement.
“According to the (Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code of 1968), the purpose of zoning is to protect the health and morals of the community,” he said Friday. “But gateway commercial next to families?”
Porter said the ability to appeal the zoning is no longer an option. But, he said, it can be addressed through the Court of Common Pleas within 30 days, “which is a possibility.”
He said when development begins, he will be there with the architects to make sure they construct a good-looking building.
Porter said his biggest issue is that the council apparently hasn‘t been willing to work with the public.
“The majority of the folks at that meeting and in College Township don’t want to see gateway commercial there,” he said, “and our elected representatives did not respond to what we said.”
Porter would like to see the council to be more responsive to residents, taking their comments into consideration and acting on that input.
“I’m putting them on notice,” he said. “I want a responsive government, not a zombie government.”