College Township Planning Commission recommends changes to new Hilltop rezoning plan

Almost a year after the Hilltop Mobile Home Park closed in February 2013, the process to determine what’s next for the now-empty land got a fresh start Tuesday.

The township Planning Commission held its first in what figures to be a series of discussions into a rezoning request for the 30-acre site along East College Avenue at its regular meeting Tuesday.

How to rezone the property has been an ongoing debate in the township since the park closed, and Township Council previously rejected a plan that would have allowed high-density R3 residential developments.

Council ordered a rebooted plan back to the Planning Commission for review in November, and members of the commission got their first crack at it Tuesday.

The new request features a mixture of gateway commercial, R2 residential and parkland/open space.

One decision the commission will face is whether some of the gateway commercial land should instead have a purely commercial designation.

Gateway commercial allows for residential uses, but has no restrictions on residential density.

Residents in the area have expressed concerns about allowing high-density apartments on the plot throughout the rezoning process, and several made their voices heard on the issue again Tuesday.

“I think this is a reasonable plan, but the concern is a high-rise or multistory residential in the gateway commercial zone,” said Russ Graham, of Shamrock Avenue. “That’s the main concern.”

Township officials made several recommendations for possible changes to the proposed rezoning plan. One of those, expanding the open space district that acts as a buffer between the development and surrounding neighborhoods, seemed to have broad approval on the commission.

Pat Ward, of Uni-Tec Consulting Engineers, who is representing Hillop property owners Kenneth and Sharon Mayes, said he looks forward to feedback from the commission and realizes there could be changes to the plan.

Ward also represents adjacent property owners Rodney Hendricks and John Mitchell Jr. in the request for parcels in that area.

Ward acknowledged the concerns of residents, but said it can be difficult to separate the idea of rezoning from the idea of approving a specific development.

“It’s easy to talk about them in the same breath,” he said. “But really zoning is focusing on trying to encourage or drive development of your township in a way you see fit. We’re trying to abide by that.”

Ward said the property owners don’t see current zoning of the lot as beneficial to anyone.

“The outcome of prior events was that you ended up with property still zoned mobile home park,” Ward said. “We certainly believe that’s not the best zoning for the property. Rather than trying to look into future at particular development scheme, we asked ourselves, ‘what would be an appropriate zoning scheme in the area?’”

Some residents at the meeting appeared frustrated that the process was back at preliminary stages before the Planning Commission.

Member Janet Sulzer said the commission must start over now that there is a new proposal under consideration.

“All those meetings and months that took place are on another proposal,” Sulzer said. “You know how long we spent. And we’re back at the first step tonight.”