Hilltop site rezoning proposal in College Township heads to public hearing

Instead of “prolonging the agony,” as Chairman Dave Fryer put it, and scheduling more meetings to discuss the potential rezoning of the former Hilltop Mobile Home Park, the Township Council on Thursday voted 3-2 to move an option to a public hearing.

The council agreed with the recommendation from the Planning Commission, narrowly approved last month, a combination of R1 and R2 residential.

Fryer, council members Dave Koll and Rich Francke approved sending that proposal to a hearing, while members Eric Bernier and Mary Shoemaker opposed. Members approved the public hearing for Nov. 7, with Bernier opposing.

R1 and R2 allows single-family homes, duplexes, townhomes, places of assembly and schools. The recommendation allows for 165 to 251 dwelling units at the site, no increase in density.

Higher-density R3 residential originally was part of the rezoning request by student housing developer Trinitas Ventures, but the council rejected that in June. Trinitas has since modified its request to a mix of R1 and R2.

In a letter to the township dated Wednesday, Hilltop property owners Kenneth Mayes and Sharon Mayes wrote that they “wish to inform (c)ouncil at this time Trinitas may or may not have a continuing property interest in this property.”

However, the Mayeses went on to say they support the rezoning to a combination of R1 and R2.

Travis Vencel, the representative from Trinitas who has attended township proceedings on the issue, said he had no comment on the Mayeses’ statement. Trinitas has had an agreement with the owners to purchase the property if it is rezoned.

Vencel did not speak during Thursday’s meeting.

But, as has happened at every meeting during which Hilltop is discussed, residents filled the room and spoke passionately about their concerns about student housing, pedestrian safety, traffic and the flexibility a developer would have by requesting a planned residential development.

A PRD, as was done with The Retreat student housing complex on Waupelani Drive, allows a wider variety of uses on a site and additional plan options, but also allows the township to require more conditions for project approval.

“I think people just want to know that there’s some sort of buffer,” said Shamrock Avenue resident Kathleen Kunes. “That maybe a district doesn’t allow a PRD.”

Engineer Kent Baker pointed out a PRD still requires a land development process and council approval. Manager Adam Brumbaugh added that only two PRDS have come before the council in 17 years.

Vencel’s original presentation related to a higher-density rezoning previewed a plan for student housing, and residents haven’t forgotten that proposal.

Linda Kelley, a Cottonwood Avenue resident, spoke with emotion about the money invested in her home and the difficulties her daughter has experienced living near students.

“It means a lot to me,” she said of her home.“I could’ve gone anywhere, but I like the area I’m in.”

Council members pointed out there is no development plan at this point, and the issue is about rezoning the site for the best use in the township.

While many residents asked to slow the process and hold more meetings, the rezoning issue has been discussed for 11 months. Koll said delaying it further is “putting our head in the sand.”

A State College police officer the township asked to attend the meeting stood and called for order when Koll and some residents began yelling back and forth. One man said Koll gave an unfair characterization of residents when he said he guaranteed they wouldn’t like anything the township does at the site and that the issue won’t go away with a delay.

Fryer said the public hearing will give everyone the chance to discuss the details further.

“We will get the opportunity to shoot it down and go again,” he said. “It’s going to have an impact no matter what. That’s growth.”