State College

College Township to continue Hilltop rezoning talks this week

The Planning Commission on Tuesday will again discuss rezoning options at the site of the now-closed Hilltop Mobile Home Park, with the goal of reaching consensus to provide the Township Council a recommendation.

In June, the council opposed by a 4-1 vote the original rezoning request from Lafayette, Ind.-based Trinitas Ventures. The student housing developer asked for a change from mobile home park to residential R3, a higher density. After strong opposition to that plan, Trinitas amended the request to include residential R1 (single-family) and R2 (two-family).

The council asked the Planning Commission to consider alternatives that would create R1 and R2 zones. According to the township zoning ordinance, R1 is meant to provide “low-density housing in appropriate locations” and R2 should provide low- and moderate-income housing and create a buffer between R1 areas and more intense land uses.

When the commission last discussed the issue, in mid-July, Travis Vencel, of Trinitas, said he now supports what is known as “option six,” mostly R2 with a strip of R1 adjacent to Oak Ridge Avenue. The commission eventually tabled the discussion, asking planner Mark Holdren to draw several of the scenarios that would rezone to a mix of those two residential districts.

“In terms of how many additional units, both those scenarios are really not an increase in density over what they could build now, under existing zoning,” Holdren said. “They directed me to keep the number of dwellings down a bit.”

The scenarios outlined in a memo from Holdren ranged from a maximum of 250 dwelling units, under the current zoning, to 428 units, if all parcels were rezoned to R2. “Option six” would have a maximum of 359 units.

Holdren mapped two scenarios staff will recommend the Planning Commission consider Tuesday, with dwelling maximums of 296 and 300. The latter would include a slightly larger R2 zone.

Holdren said staff believe it is “highly unlikely” that another mobile home park would be built at the site. Engineer Kent Baker has said that water and sewer infrastructure needs to be repaired, no matter what is developed.

However, former Hilltop residents and some community members still hold out hope for such a community. Since the park closed in February, residents have scattered, but some have pursued a community purchase of the site and a potential park reopening.

“I think how things have kind of shifted right now is the ‘save Hilltop’ campaign is more of a community action,” said Matt Rooke, who has served as president of a residents association. “Certainly residents are still involved, but now we need to engage more concerned citizens of College Township and the area.”

Though the township is moving toward rezoning the site in some fashion, Rooke said the campaign remains focused on manufactured home communities and the “unique niche” they can fill to home ownership. He said attempts to discuss possibilities with property owners Kenneth Mayes and his sister, Sharon Mayes, continue to stall. The Mayeses have an agreement with Trinitas for the developer to purchase the land if it is rezoned.

“We’ve tried to engage with the owners on the possibility of selling it to someone who would be willing to reopen it,” Rooke said. “We think they have every right to sell the land,” but that it should remain a mobile home park.

Housing Transitions Inc., the local housing services organization, is still working to help one household from Hilltop, spokeswoman Susanna Paul said. A partnership of local service organizations scrambled to assist those residents and residents of the Penn State Mobile Home Park in Patton Township, which closed in July, as well as those affected by the Hotel Do De and Waupelani Heights fires.

“The good news is that most of those folks have moved on to permanent replacement housing,” Paul said. “It’s been a long journey for some folks.”

Paul said Housing Transitions has not taken an advocacy role during the rezoning discussion, but that the organization continues to spread the word that affordable housing remains a need in the region.

Tuesday’s Planning Commission meeting begins at 7:30 p.m. at the township building, 1481 E. College Ave.