The concept of a 12-story building at the corner of South Atherton Street and West College Avenue can move into the borough planning process with approved zoning changes Monday.
The Borough Council at its regular meeting approved changes to signature development in the commercial incentive district 5-2, with President Don Hahn and Councilwoman Sarah Klinetob opposing. Signature buildings are allowed only in some areas of downtown and can achieve greater height based on design and mix of uses.
The primary ordinance changes are an increased density for rental housing and a reduction in the minimum percentage of signature development that must be non-residential uses.
The changes were requested by developers Ara Kervandjian and Heidi Nicholas, but will apply to the entire zoning district.
Public comment was mixed at a public hearing on the changes earlier this month, and was mixed from members of the public and the council on Monday, particularly on the issue of more student housing.
Kervandjian has said the building, dubbed The Metropolitan, will have apartments of various sizes and that his team will market to residents beyond only undergraduate students.
Theresa Lafer, president of the Highlands Civic Association and a resident, said she’s concerned about the high density and hopes the borough will monitor the building in its first year to see if it causes problems.
“If we pass it, I hope that the development will put as much effort into marketing to young families, young professionals, as they do for students, who will clearly flock to the closest place and the newest building,” she said.
But Lafer also added that the downtown does need something “new and vibrant as a signature building.”
Zoe Boniface, a resident and chairwoman of the Design Review Board, said she thinks the building’s success or failure depends a “great deal” on whether the developers can market the building as mixed-use.”
“We may need to support these folks to get non-students into this building,” she said.
Hahn received applause from the audience when he gave a “tale of four redevelopment projects” over the years, related to increasing building heights and density downtown.
“I do not understand more than doubling densities for student housing at this time,” he said, adding that the height and density will have “ill affects” on the Holmes-Foster neighborhood. “To what benefit is it to the borough if it gains downtown redevelopment, but loses its neighborhoods?”
Councilman Ron Filippelli said that he came on the council eight years ago thinking that the borough should try to stop downtown student housing. However, he said he now believes it will relieve pressure on the borough’s neighborhoods and, perhaps, reduce the number of single-family homes converted to student rentals.
“... That means there are more people walking, more people cycling, more people close to our downtown businesses,” he said. “We won’t have as many automobiles.”
Filippelli noted the new student housing complexes located in other municipalities, which would require students to drive into the borough.
“They’re going to be driving at night,” he said. “They’re going to be drinking. ... I have changed my position, but I believe I’ve changed my position based on my experience.”
Councilman Peter Morris added his support and said the site may be the most prominent in the borough, and that any project there should be something the borough can take pride in.
“I would like to see more non-students living downtown,” he said. “I especially would like to see mixed population developments. I think The Metropolitan has a chance to be such a thing. They seem to be trying. What else can we ask?”
Klintob said the borough hasn’t yet done enough to attract a non-student population to the downtown to live in such a building.
“If we’re building higher, our market is still only the students, and we haven’t done anything to broaden jobs here,” she said. “I don’t know who else is going to fill this.”
Kervandjian did not address the room until after the vote, thanking the council for its comments and concerns. He said the building will be “spectacular” and is intended to be a “truly” mixed-use building.
“We are confident we will not let this community down,” he said.