State College

State College residents express mixed feelings on historical review board

State College Borough Council held a public hearing Monday night on an ordinance that would create a Historical and Architectural Review Board. A HARB would oversee regulated activities within the Holmes Foster/Highlands and College Heights historic districts.
State College Borough Council held a public hearing Monday night on an ordinance that would create a Historical and Architectural Review Board. A HARB would oversee regulated activities within the Holmes Foster/Highlands and College Heights historic districts. Centre Daily Times, file

At an hour-and-a-half-long public hearing Monday, about two dozen residents expressed their thoughts on the creation of a Historical Architectural Review Board, and they were split between support and concern.

The proposed ordinance — slated to be voted on Dec. 18 by Borough Council — would create a local historic district and appoint a HARB to give recommendations to Borough Council regarding the granting or refusal of certificates of appropriateness for full and partial demolitions, new construction and additions to contributing properties in the historic district.

The historic district would be made up of Holmes-Foster/Highlands and College Heights neighborhoods, and contributing properties are listed on the borough’s draft HARB boundary map. There are 665 contributing parcels in Holmes-Foster/Highlands and 276 in College Heights.

Both the Holmes-Foster/Highlands and College Heights neighborhoods are listed as historic districts in the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places.

None of the speakers at the public hearing voiced objection to historic preservation — but some had concerns about the negative effects a HARB could have, such as financial burdens and loss of owners’ property rights.

It’s more expensive to renovate and insure a home in a historic district, Greg Hayes, who lives in Holmes-Foster neighborhood.

Under the ordinance, a lot of burdens fall on the homeowner, he said.

Pat Vernon, who lives in College Township but owns property in the borough, said there are other historic issues not being dealt with.

“There’s no historic protection for any of the buildings in the downtown,” he said.

And some took issue with how quickly the process was going, suggesting that Borough Council should take more time to consider the ordinance.

Others were in favor of the HARB, saying it would maintain the character of the neighborhoods.

Rosalie Bloom Brooks, a resident of the Highlands neighborhood, lives in a historic mail-order house, and she said there are several others near hers.

She said keeping those homes would be a nice legacy to leave for future generations — they say something about life in State College, particularly the 1920s, and speaks for where the town came from.

The HARB would be a “wonderful tool” and structure to have in place so that the neighborhoods can be preserved, she said.

“Our historic district has no teeth,” said Carla Hass, who lives in College Heights.

Without a HARB, any of the contributing properties are at risk of being torn down, she said.

Sarah Rafacz: 814-231-4619, @SarahRafacz

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