State College

State College Borough Council likely to approve housing overlay

Borough Council approved a motion to and gave notice of its intent to act on the controversial collegiate housing overlay proposal July 6.

The decision on the hotly debated topic comes after months of discussion dating back to 2014.

The overlay would have the potential to alter building heights and parking spaces, allowing for taller than normally allowed buildings under the current commercial zoning. Building heights could also be increased based on incentives for development, such as adding professional housing and underground parking.

Discussion has focused mainly on the Kildare’s Irish Pub property, located at 538 E. College Ave.

Resident Smita Bharti commented on the overlay, saying she started a petition encouraging the council to vote “no” on the overlay. At press time, the petition had 116 signatures.

Bharti asked the council not to approve the overlay, saying it doesn’t yet know the impact the Metropolitan project will have on the borough before approving what could end up becoming a similar development.

Resident Al Drobka encouraged council members to approve the overlay, saying as buildings get older, this is an opportunity to incentivize development to build new, more energy-efficient buildings.

President Jim Rosenberger said he’s read the comments on Bharti’s petition, saying it’s important to consider the residents’ comments, but there are “a number of misconceptions.”

“For example, I have seen people put forward the idea that this will increase student density in the area,” he said. “Right now, if nothing happens, a seven-story student apartment building can be built in that spot.”

Mixed use buildings with commercial space included with residential tends to be a calming device in populated areas, he said. Leaving the zoning as is would remove those calming techniques.

Population is going to increase in State College, Councilwoman Theresa Lafer said, and the council can’t stop that. It instead becomes a question of where to put students.

“I’m 100 percent certain we can’t house them in the clouds,” she said, “so we have to house them in the borough and surrounding townships.”

Calling the people who own the property “evil developers” doesn’t make sense, she said. Council has evolved in thinking this was not a good idea regarding it as one of the best plans they’ve seen in a while, she said, and when it comes time to vote, she said she hoped council would vote in favor of it.

In other business, planner Meagan Tuttle updated council on the proposed Allen Street Civic District identified during the Planning Commission meeting Thursday.

The Planning Commission will be working with the redevelopment authority on certifying the district for redevelopment, she said. The district includes the properties between Highland Alley, West Foster Avenue, South Fraser Street and South Allen Street.

The commission is also working with Discovery Space to find office and storage space so the museum can remain in its current location during the redevelopment process, she said. It is also negotiating a lease with Penn State to remain as a tenant in the former Verizon Building during this period as well.