State College

College Township OKs height restrictions in gateway zoning

Township Council unanimously approved a gateway commercial district building height amendment Thursday, closing the book on the controversial district for now.

The existing regulations of the ordinance restrict building heights to 55 feet. If a building is within 150 feet of a lot containing a single-family home or within 300 feet of an R-1 zone, the height is restricted to 35 feet.

According to the amendment, building height restrictions will not apply to any parcels within 300 feet of the center line of East College Avenue, allowing a maximum building height of 55 feet. Height restrictions can also be eliminated if the owner or developer enters into a written agreement with the owner of the adjacent property. The agreement must be acceptable with the township and will be recorded with the Centre County recorder of deeds.

The vote came after a public hearing, which saw only one dissenting voice to the proposed amendment. Sweetland Engineering and Associates President David Sweetland, whose firm represents property owners near the Thompson Woods Preserve, was against the zoning as it stands now, saying it discriminated against the property and the usage of it.

“The differentiation between 150 feet for a single-family home and 300 feet for R-1 seems to be almost arbitrary,” he said. “I don’t understand why you have two distances.”

Sweetland had previously come before the council saying about 42 percent of the property is encumbered by environmental restrictions, leaving the remaining acreage limited by 35-foot height restrictions.

“The use of horizontal distance controlling vertical heights seems inappropriate,” he said.

“In my mind, surely there is a better way.”

Councilwoman Carla Stilson said she has always agreed that 300 feet, essentially an entire football field, seemed like overkill.

Councilman Rich Francke said to remember that the 300-foot buffer is not a zone of no-development, but a zone of height restriction. The ordinance relaxes two of the existing height restrictions.

This is the third amendment to the gateway commercial ordinance since its conception, according to senior planner Mark Holdren. The first amendment restricted buildings to 35 feet within 300 feet of R-1 zones. The second amendment restricted buildings to 35 feet within 150 feet of single-family homes.

He said he didn’t think there would be any further changes to the zoning ordinance. As of now, there are no serious offers into the development of the Hilltop area.