State College

State College residents ask for more review time of downtown master plan

Though the borough has engaged in the development of a downtown master plan for a year, several residents Monday night requested a delay of the vote to approve the 250-page document.

Borough Council discussed concerns with the plan during its work session and a vote on the final document draft was set for next Monday. Members discussed possible postponement, but left the vote as scheduled.

The plan was compiled by a design team with the help of a steering committee, regular public meetings and presentations, and discussions in front of various borough officials. It includes recommendations for downtown projects including branding, pedestrian and transit facilities, streetscapes and more.

The council has final approval, not only of the final draft of the plan, but the individual projects. Several projects are recommended for 2014, including a system of signs to help visitors find parking, municipal services, Schlow Centre Region Library and other downtown features.

Residents expressed concerns with the amount of time they had to review the plan, since it was released in final draft form on July 8. They also mentioned specific items, such as a recommendation to allow building heights up to 14 stories is specific areas of downtown — along Atherton Street from the bus terminal to the north side of Beaver Avenue, on the north side of Beaver to Fraser Street, on the north side of Beaver between Pugh and Garner streets and on College Avenue between Garner and Hetzel streets.

Planning staff member Meagan Tuttle said the two additional stories would be in signature development areas. Those buildings are allowed such incentives in exchange for providing a mix of uses and unique building designs.

“They would have to be tied to incentives,” she said.

Councilman Ron Filippelli said those requirements would make those buildings attractive to businesses.

“Given the cost of land in the borough and the problems of development of borough space, it’s not possible to have those kinds of amenities, at least in my opinion, in new construction unless you have an increase in the height of the buildings,” he said.

Resident Janet Engeman asked how tall a building the Alpha Fire Company could handle in an emergency.

“I wonder if all those things have been considered — the maintenance of downtown,” she said.

Council President Don Hahn said that, during his time on the Planning Commission, he recalled discussing that issue and that, while fire apparatus couldn’t extend to the top of buildings, fire mitigation was addressed inside the buildings. That could include sprinklers.

Councilman Peter Morris said he would support the plan, but that the branding and marketing ideas “irritate” him.

“I’m kind of an anti-marketing, anti-branding kind of guy,” he said. “I don’t think it does much for people in a positive kind of way.”

The branding concepts include a new logo for downtown — but not the borough as a municipality — featuring “downtown” in blue, red, yellow and green blocks. Other signs would play off that main logo. The proposed slogan for the downtown is “Discover the best times of your life.”

The Downtown State College Improvement District will be responsible for discussing and approving the branding ideas. Executive Director George Arnold has said his board supports those.

Resident David Stone opposed the slogan and said he hoped more time would allow for development of something better.

“I do agree with the criticism that, before the (Jerry) Sandusky scandal, the big scandal was our reputation,” he said, referencing drinking and parties. “This kind of slogan doesn’t go deep enough to deal with these issues.”

After discussion among council members, Jim Rosenberger said he agreed the report is long and that he would rather postpone a vote than end up with a split council vote. However, Hahn said the vote should take place next week and that, while a vote on postponement is an option, members should have specific reasons and alternatives.

“Remember, this is a plan,” Councilman Tom Daubert pointed out. “It’s not an ordinance, it’s not a law. It gives us something to start with.”