State College

Student housing issue dominates State College planning discussion

As the borough seeks input into its neighborhood and downtown master plans, concern still looms over the issue of student housing.

Planner Megan Tuttle presented neighborhood and downtown plan progress reports Monday to Borough Council, saying an implementation program is being developed that will tell the story of the projects being done collectively as a community.

The neighborhood plan itself contains 22 individual projects, programs or activities directly addressing 20 plan recommendations, Tuttle said. These projects involve several of the borough’s departments, authorities, boards and commissions.

The plan addresses three themes, she said — neighborhood facilities and appearance, balancing owner- and renter-occupied housing and neighbor-to-neighbor relationships. The goals of each are met through the different programs under each theme, such as neighborhood park improvement projects, evaluating the impacts of intermittent rentals on neighborhoods and researching best practices from peer communities.

The downtown master plan addresses four themes, she said: marketing the district, navigating the district, connecting the district and living in the district. Key programs under these themes include redesigning event logos, a downtown parking study, the capital improvements program and the plan’s influence on the proposed collegiate overlay zoning amendment.

Council members focused their questions on the issue of housing for young professionals, asking if finding a place for young professionals was part of the master plan.

According to Tuttle, the plan states that downtown will emerge as a place where professionals will want to live. Professional housing partnerships could develop through activities related to the downtown and neighborhood plans, and a young professionals group is working on networking activities about what opportunities might exist that the borough can suggest to other municipalities in the county.

Planner Ed LeClear said the Planning Commission has been wrestling with the difference between units to be rented and who would be living in the units.

In the case of the Metropolitan, a multistory apartment building going up along South Atherton Street, the top floors have been reserved for professional and graduate housing. LeClear said a lot of orientation has been placed on the number of bedrooms and the number of people occupying the rooms with the assumption that the market for professionals will require fewer bedrooms and lower occupancy.

Referring back to the proposed collegiate housing overlay, resident Janet Engeman said she thought community members weren’t sure they liked the idea of multistory buildings as far as Nittany Avenue and said the Downtown Improvement District was having a disproportionate influence on the community.

LeClear said the Planning Commission has spent the past seven months discussing what’s in the master plan as it relates to the eastern part of East College Avenue, including the proposed overlay.

“At the end of the day, the downtown plan is a guidance policy document,” he said, “but the details are something you spend a lot of time working with the public and the Planning Commission and eventually the council.”

The commission discussed the collegiate housing overlay during a meeting on Jan. 7.

The next step in the implementation of the plans is to collaborate with neighborhood organizations, student groups and community groups about projects they want to implement, Tuttle said.

A special meeting of the Planning Commission has been scheduled for 5 p.m. Thursday in the New Leaf Initiative office at the municipal building to discuss the neighborhood plan implementation program.