College Township Planning Commission recommends Hilltop rezoning

Concern about the fate of the site of the now-closed Hilltop Mobile Home Park shifted from former residents to current Centre Hills Village residents who live adjacent to the former park, as discussion on the potential rezoning of the site continued Tuesday with the Planning Commission.

Residents still filled the room and expressed concerns about increased density, traffic and safety of their community. At times, passionate residents and township staff argued about potential impacts from a change in the zoning from mobile home park to a mix of single- and two-family residential.

In the end, the commission voted 4-3 to recommend that the Township Council rezone the property to a combination of R1 and R2 residential, with the two-family R2 closer to East College Avenue and the single-family R1 starting around Mallard Avenue and extending up to Oak Ridge Avenue. It is anticipated the council will discuss the issue at its Sept. 5 meeting.

The recommendation does not follow the Centre Region’s comprehensive plan, which recommends more density at that site. Currently, planner Mark Holdren said the zoning allows for 163 to 200 dwelling units, depending on accompanying infrastructure. The recommendation allows for 165 to 251. Other options under consideration Tuesday allowed for up to 300 units.

Supporting the recommendation were commission members Janet Sulzer, Al Barbour, Rich Francke and Chairman Ray Forziat. Opposing were Anthony Fragola, George Khoury and Steve Lyncha. A previous vote on one of the options to slightly increase density failed, with all members taking opposite positions.

“Your comments matter,” Francke said, addressing the crowd. “Don’t think that they don’t. This isn’t an easy decision for anybody to make. We are abandoning the comprehensive plan to do this.”

Residents mainly from Oak Ridge and Shamrock avenues spoke up with concerns about traffic, safety, particularly on Squirrel Drive, and the flexibility that could be granted a developer who asks for a planned residential development. The PRD creates a rezoned development that allows negotiation with the township and more flexibility for a project. The new student-targeted, cottage-style apartments at The Retreat on Waupelani Drive were developed under a PRD.

Resident Carmen Chatterley expressed concern about a developer building whatever it wants in a PRD scenario and said, if a new development goes in around Squirrel Drive, “they have to put in sidewalks.” Others also worried about pedestrian safety on Squirrel and throughout the area.

Resident Scott Smith said he walks down Squirrel to take the bus to work and worried about his safety and that of his 3- and 6-year-old sons.

“From my perspective, there’s a lot of traffic on Squirrel, much of which is moving at a deadly pace,” he said. “It’s about whether I or my kids are going to get clipped by a car.”

David Porter said he was one of more than 100 residents from Centre Hills Village to sign a petition airing their concerns. He argued with township engineer Kent Baker about potential traffic impacts on Country Club Road. While Baker agreed the road is narrow, he pointed out it’s a State College road and said the proposed rezoning plans would not add enough traffic to require mitigation, like a traffic signal.

“You must respect us,” Porter said to loud audience applause. “We disagree. I say it’s inadequate.”

When Hilltop was closed in February, Lafayette, Ind.-based developer Trinitas Ventures requested the site be rezoned from mobile home park to R3 residential, which would allow a proposed 275- to 300-unit complex targeting student-aged tenants. Trinitas still has an agreement to purchase the property from owners Kenneth Mayes and his sister, Sharon Mayes.

After public outcry and township hesitation, Trinitas amended that request to include lower-density R1 and R2 residential, but Trinitas representative Travis Vencel has said previously the developer now supports a mix of just R1 and R2. In June the council opposed 4-1 the R1-3 request, uncomfortable with the higher-density component. Vencel was present Tuesday, but did not speak.

Baker made clear Tuesday that the rezoning decision had nothing to do with housing for students, and that students could live in any of the zoning districts under consideration.