A majority of the East College Avenue corridor heading into State College has been designated a gateway commercial district, but adjustments to the zoning ordinance haven’t ended.
New amendments to the ordinance have been proposed, prompting a unanimous council vote Thursday to advertise the amendments and hold a public hearing.
Following lengthy discussions, the Township Council voted in September to rezone the former Hilltop Mobile Home Park to the gateway commercial zone, which allows for a mix of commercial and residential uses. At the time, the ordinance included certain buffer zones that would potentially keep taller buildings away from residences.
“The reason we’re addressing this once again,” senior planner Mark Holdren said, “is, as we went through the process of rezoning the former Hilltop trailer park to gateway commercial, we made some amendments to the height restrictions within the gateway commercial district at that time.”
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According to Holdren, the existing regulations of the ordinance restrict building heights to 55 feet. If a building is within 150 feet of a lot containing a single-family home or within 300 feet of an R-1 zone, the height is restricted to 35 feet.
When Thursday’s meeting began, two amendments were on the table. The first would remove 35-foot height restrictions to parcels within 300 feet of the center line of East College Avenue. The second amendment would allow property owners to enter into an agreement with a developer to allow a building to exceed the 35-foot restriction.
The township wants to see the effects of the district ordinance occur, Holdren said, and encourages taller buildings along East College Avenue.
The township Planning Commission voted unanimously to recommend the proposed amended ordinance to council for approval, he said.
Councilwoman Carla Stilson said she was concerned about the owner-developer agreement amendment, questioning whether a process for such an agreement exists. According to Holdren, the agreements must be in a format acceptable to the township and will be recorded with the Centre County Recorder of Deeds.
The council received a last-minute proposal to the amendments during the meeting, brought forward by Sweetland Engineering and Associates President David Sweetland, whose firm represents property owners near the Thompson Woods Preserve.
According to Sweetland, there is a 100-foot riparian buffer, a protective stream buffer, from Thompson Run and Walnut Run on the property. Of the 8-acre property, about 42 percent is encumbered by environmental restrictions. The remaining acreage is limited by the 35-foot restrictions, significantly hindering the use of the property.
“This is really commercial property,” he said. “We don’t see it being anything residential.”
Sweetland proposed a third amendment that would eliminate height restrictions if the property has already lost 40 percent of its area to environmental easements or environmental buffers.
The board agreed to take the third amendment under consideration. A public hearing for the amendments has been set for Jan. 22.
“This gives us enough time to get the amendments back to the township Planning Commission and the Centre Region Planning Commission,” township Manager Adam Brumbaugh said.
Resident Ruth Houtz-Bressler said the way and speed the township is developing scares her, asking, “Does this mean East College Avenue will soon look like Beaver Canyon?”