College Township Council considers next steps in Hilltop rezoning

Plans for the former Hilltop Mobile Home Park started to come into focus Thursday.

But College Township Council couldn’t agree at its regular meeting to move forward just yet in the process to rezone the property and several adjacent lots.

A few dozen township residents crowded into the meeting Thursday to hear the latest chapter in the ongoing saga of the former mobile home park, which closed in February 2013 and has since been the subject of contentious redevelopment proposals.

On Thursday, council was to consider scheduling public hearings to enact several zoning changes recommended by the township Planning Commission. But after a lengthy conversation and public comment session, council opted to get more information from township staff before making those decisions, which could now come at a meeting next month.

There has been much debate about how to rezone the property since it closed, and a previous plan met with resistance from residents over concerns that high-density student housing could be built there. Developers submitted new plans in November, essentially starting the process over, and council sent the matter on to the Planning Commission for review and recommendations.

Council had its first crack at the recommendations Thursday. They include adding the option for a possible new road entering the property and capping residential density allowed in a zoning district planned for the site. Those changes would each require a public hearing before they could be enacted.

Planning Commissioner Rich Frank said Thursday the panel tried to come up with a plan that would control residential density and perhaps prevent a student housing development from opening there, which was a top concern for neighbors.

To do that, the commission recommended making the entire Hilltop property a gateway commercial zoning district, and then modifying the zoning district to cap residential density. The plan would encourage more commercial and mixed-use development and less dense residential ones, officials said.

Previous plans called for some of the Hilltop property to be zoned as R2 residential, but it would be possible for student housing to be built there, though council would still have some control, officials said.

The Planning Commission’s proposal also addressed accessibility at the site, calling for a possible extension of Puddintown Road through its intersection with East College Avenue and through the Hilltop property.

An open-space buffer between the site and an adjacent neighborhood would also be widened under the proposal, further limiting possible development.

Pat Ward, of Uni-Tec Consulting Engineers, who is representing Hillop property owner Kenneth Mayes and the owners of several adjacent properties, said his clients found the Planning Commission’s proposal fair for all sides.

“We don’t like everything about it, but we think it was a fair compromise to what we originally came in with,” Ward said at the meeting. “We came here thinking we had a proposal that was supported pretty much all the way around, that achieved what most people want to achieve, that put something down that’s good for College Township, not just Kenny Mayes.”

But there were concerns raised at the meeting, as well. Buildings as tall as 55 feet are allowed in gateway commercial land, and that could lead to large commercial buildings being constructed further up the hill, away from East College Avenue and toward a residential neighborhood.

Others expressed concerns that development would come too close to Thompson Woods Preserve. Kevin Abbey, a land conservation manager at ClearWater Conservancy, asked if some of the open-space buffer between the development and homes along Oak Ridge Avenue could be moved and instead be a buffer for Thompson Woods.

Council instructed staff to review those and other issues and come up with possible solutions. The panel is expected to resume discussions on the Planning Commission’s recommendations at a meeting next month.