State College

State College Borough Council to vote on HARB

A view of East Adams Avenue on Sunday in State College.
A view of East Adams Avenue on Sunday in State College.

State College Borough Council will vote Monday night on whether to pass an ordinance that would establish a Historical and Architectural Review Board — which would review requests to make certain changes to designated homes in two historic borough districts.

The ordinance would also give Borough Council the authority to approve or deny certificates of appropriateness for full or partial demolitions, additions (on the front and 50 percent of the side yard) and any new construction within the boundary of the districts, said Ed LeClear, State College borough’s planning director.

The original proposed ordinance regulated pretty much everything except paint color, LeClear said, but there’s been a lot of fine-tuning and narrowing of the ordinance to what council is now considering.

State statute dictates who must serve on the HARB — a Pennsylvania licensed real estate broker, a state-registered architect, a building code inspector and four community members with a demonstrated interest in historic preservation.

The historic districts would be made up of Holmes-Foster/Highlands and College Heights neighborhoods, and contributing properties — ones that need to be reviewed by the HARB — are listed on the borough’s draft HARB boundary maps. There are 706 contributing parcels in Holmes-Foster/Highlands and 274 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.

At a public hearing two weeks ago, about two dozen residents expressed mixed feelings on the creation of a HARB.

While all were in favor of historic preservation, some were concerned with the possible negative impacts of a HARB.

Among the concerns brought up were loss of property owners’ rights and financial burden.

“I think a lot of the comments we’ve heard, I think when it comes to expense, were more ... related to if the HARB and council would be reviewing alterations, so like windows, roofs, etc.,” LeClear said.

By narrowing down what will be reviewed, he said he thinks the borough’s gone a long way to addressing some of those concerns about potential increases in cost.

Multiple residents also said they felt like the process was moving too quickly.

Originally, the process began back in 2002 to get an ordinance to create a HARB, LeClear said. It passed council and was then vetoed by Mayor Bill Welch.

The Design and Historic Review Board started at “resurrecting” the ordinance and combining it with a state model in late 2015 or early 2016, he said.

In addition, the borough established the Heritage State College project to educate the community throughout the fall about the possibility of a HARB, said Douglas Shontz, borough communication specialist.

Bellefonte borough also has a Historical and Architectural Review Board, which was established through an ordinance in 1970.

Several hundred properties fall in Bellefonte’s historic district, Bellefonte borough Manager Ralph Stewart said.

Much like the proposed State College ordinance, Bellefonte’s HARB makes recommendations to the Borough Council — the body that ultimately approves or denies a certificate of appropriateness.

The purpose of ordinance is to preserve the historic character of the house, Stewart said.

If something is being replaced in-kind — such as painting the house the same color — then no review is required.

But if the homeowner plans to change materials or colors, or adding something, that’s when he or she need to go through the review process, Stewart said. (He noted that the review process can take as little as two weeks.)

“The homeowner is more or less a caretaker,” he said.

Someone may own a home for five years or 50 years, but eventually, he said, that person will sell it to someone else.

“The borough feels that it’s in the best interest of the community to preserve those features for the future,” Stewart said.

On average, 70 to 75 applications are reviewed each year in Bellefonte, Stewart said, with 95 to 98 percent going smoothly through the process.

Stewart said no matter what a municipality adopts, the keys are education and enforcement.

State College Borough Council will vote during its 7 p.m. meeting Monday at the municipal building, 243 S. Allen St.

If the ordinance passes, it likely wouldn’t go into effect until spring because there’s a state certification process.

There’s also going to be an 18-month reassessment if it passes so that staff can review the number of applications and how long they take to get through the process, Shontz said.

Sarah Rafacz: 814-231-4619, @SarahRafacz