College Township community voices concern over mobile home park rezoning

Mary Lou Martin moved to the Hilltop Mobile Home Park about a decade ago and calls herself a “regular person” who works for a living.

“I’ve enjoyed living at Hilltop because I feel safe,” she said. “It’s quiet, it’s affordable, it’s kept clean. We enjoy taking care of our homes and our yards and improving the looks of the property.”

More than a dozen Hilltop, College Township and Centre County residents spoke in favor of keeping the park open, with more than 50 people packing the township meeting room Thursday night. It was announced early this fall that the park, off East College Avenue, would be closed, and residents have until the end of February to move.

Since that time, Indiana-based developer Trinitas Ventures has requested to rezone the property — currently zoned only for mobile home parks — to a higher, residential density. Trinitas develops, in part, student housing. The first hearing of the request was set for mid-November, but Trinitas asked for a delay, for unknown reasons.

Residents also have worked to organize a community cooperative, which could allow them to, with financing, purchase the park themselves. Led by resident Matthew Rooke, they are working with New York-based PathStone Corp., a nonprofit group that provides technical assistance for such agreements.

“Our main purpose of being here is that we believe that the existence of Hilltop is critical for the township,” Rooke said. “We would ask that you, as the council, would take the initiative, would do something to at least indicate your public support for Hilltop to remain a manufactured home community.”

Council members and staff asked some questions of Rooke, residents and attorney Donald Marritz, of Regional Housing Legal Services, who said he and the Hilltop residents association are drafting a formal, legal relationship.

While Township Council Chairman Dave Fryer said the group couldn’t vote Thursday, he said it would fast-track the process if possible, because a rezoning request process can take six to nine months. As it stands, Hilltop residents must leave the park in less than three.

“I don’t want to go through a rezoning request any more than anyone on this council here,” Fryer said. “You’ve got to be working that owner and that developer really hard.”

Rooke said a petition presented to the owners in September was met with the statement that they already had a contract with Trinitas for the property. Kenneth Mayes and his sister, Sharon Mayes, have yet to comment on the sale, contract or resident request.

Brian Tucker said he used to live in Hilltop, and spoke for his brother, Anthony, who still does. He said his brother cannot afford to move.

“The cost of moving a home is phenomenal — $25,000 to $30,000 to move a $10,000 mobile home,” he said.

Resident Wendy Kephart said she moved to Hilltop from Philipsburg in 2006, but now must move back.

“For me, there’s just not a lot of options,” she said, a common theme from residents in an area where a lack of affordable housing continues to be an issue. “I’m asking you, please, whatever’s in your power, consider it.”