State College

State College Borough Council hears feedback on housing overlay plan

Borough Council has prolonged a decision regarding the hotly debated collegiate housing overlay proposal for at least another three weeks.

After a public hearing Monday, which saw a strong residential lean against the overlay, the council voted unanimously to schedule enactment or further review at its May 4 meeting, during which it could enact the proposal, reject it, send it back to the Planning Commission for further retooling or postpone action for a later meeting.

Planning Director Ed LeClear presented a rundown of the proposal’s history, from the first time it was brought to the board nearly a year ago to its current incarnation.

The overlay would allow for taller buildings to be constructed in the 500 block of East College Avenue through the use of developer incentives to create a more appealing structure for the residents of the building.

The first floor of the building would be required to be a commercial operation, according to the ordinance. Incentives, such as additional parking, graduate or professional housing and appealing building materials would allow for additional floors and wider floor space.

LeClear outlined the residential input the proposal has received, including emails, survey responses and a community Geodeliberations project.

Jeff Haas, who owns the property containing Kildare’s Irish Pub, said the proposal would allow for lot owners to develop attractive, environmentally friendly structures rather than letting the area deteriorate. This helps diversify the downtown population and attract more commercial tenants.

Highlands Civic Association President Susan Venegoni voiced her opposition to the proposal, saying the Highlands receives the highest number of citations than any other neighborhood.

“One thousand, seven hundred and nine units are being built or have been built in this area,” she said. “That’s 4,841 beds. There are also 9,000 rental permits in the borough. ... Do we really need more student housing?”

Borough resident David Stone said pedestrian and vehicle traffic issues haven’t been worked out yet, and a new building would likely not be affordable to students.

Planning Commission President Michael Roeckel spoke as a resident in support of the overlay, saying it was a chance to do something new in the borough.

“We put the plan together so we wouldn’t be getting any more undergrads than before,” he said. “Even with all the incentives and buildout, you’re still only getting seven stories of undergraduates.”

Councilman Evan Myers said it’s not an easy issue, especially, it seems, because few residents seem to know the future plans of Penn State. With no way of knowing how many students Penn State is planning on admitting, it’s difficult to determine how much housing is needed.

The council as a whole agreed that it needed more time to review all the resident correspondence in order to have an informed discussion and make the appropriate decision.