Hilltop site’s future awaits decision from College Township

After two failed rezoning attempts in as many years, the latest coming just last week, the fate of the former Hilltop Mobile Home Park remains up in the air.

There was another bump in the road to redevelopment last week when College Township Council voted down a rezoning request that would have opened the door to future commercial and residential building.

On Thursday, a week after the vote and almost 14 months since residents were forced from the mobile home park, the next step wasn’t immediately clear.

Township Manager Adam Brumbaugh said council would likely discuss in June how it wants to proceed after voting 3-2 against a proposal that would have made the former park and most of the land around it gateway commercial space, a special zoning designation that allows a mix of commercial and residential uses.

“There really does need to be another council decision on where we’ve come from, where we are now and where council wants to go,” Brumbaugh said.

He expects new rezoning requests to be submitted by property owners, including Kenneth and Sharon Mayes, who own the mobile home park site. There is reason to believe the new proposals might be similar to the request that was rejected last week, Brumbaugh said, but the township won’t know until the paperwork is filed.

Pat Ward, of Uni-Tec Consulting Engineers, who is representing a number of property owners at the site, could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Though the proposal failed at a meeting last week, two council members who voted against it, Eric Bernier and Mary Shoemaker, indicated they did so because they wanted more clarity, not because they outright opposed the plan.

“I’m asking that we simply fully vet the option laid out before us and add a little more time and engagement into the process,” Bernier said at the meeting. “I want this process to cook a little longer.”

Township residents who attended the meeting said they had unanswered questions about the plan. Bernier called the current rezoning plans, which were proposed about six months ago and have evolved over time, a “moving target.”

“And the last six months have moved pretty fast,” he said. “What we heard tonight was people asking for clarity. I think that’s reasonable. I’d like that, too.”

Former councilman Daniel Klees, who was in the audience last week, criticized council for killing the plan instead of tabling it.

“You killed the goose tonight,” Klees said. “You could have provided more clarity on the zoning request if you could have tabled it. I would have assumed someone up at that table would have brought that up.”

Councilwoman Carla Stilson, who also voted against the plan, has not favored making the entire area gateway commercial zoning.

She has been a proponent of including less dense R1 or R2 residential zoning in plans. Those thoughts have been echoed and supported by some concerned neighbors who have routinely packed township meetings when the topic was up for discussion.

Township officials, meanwhile, have said those zoning designations make student housing projects a more likely outcome.

That’s something council has been trying to avoid. They denied the initial rezoning request for the site last year when Lafayette, Ind.-based Trinitas Ventures asked for a higher density usage for the land to build a student housing complex.

It prompted the township, on the second stab at rezoning, to explore making the entire site gateway commercial. Staff even proposed changes to that designation to make student housing more difficult to build there.

Even though the Hilltop rezoning attempt failed, council approved changes last week to the gateway commercial designation, limiting density and size of residential buildings and tightening height restrictions within 300 feet of R1 residential property, among other things.

If council revisits including Hilltop in the gateway commercial district, those new restrictions would be included.

The panel also approved an amendment to the township’s official map that could allow Puddintown Road to be extended across East College Avenue and into the Hilltop site when a developer eventually comes in with a specific land plan.

Those two items passed with little opposition from members of council or the audience. Stilson was the lone vote opposing the gateway commercial changes, and the map amendment passed unanimously.