The long-debated collegiate housing overlay proposal passed State College Borough Council Monday with a 6-1 vote in favor of the amendment.
The amendment was drafted in order to incentivize an increase in development capacity along the east end of downtown with discussion focused mainly on the lot containing Kildare’s Irish Pub at 538 E. College Ave.
Councilwoman Sarah Klinetob was the sole dissenting vote.
Under the proposal, several incentives would allow a developer to go beyond the current height maximum in exchange for certain amenities — additional floors of commercial space or environmental considerations would translate into additional stories of residential space.
While community input has been available at several previous council meetings, Mayor Elizabeth Goreham again opened the floor to public comment prior to the vote.
David Stone, a resident of East Foster Avenue, said there was a lost opportunity to bring the community together and develop a more positive vision for the community. Focusing the amendment on just one block sets a bad precedent, he said, adding that the issue should be revisited during a comprehensive rezoning plan.
Highlands Civic Association President Susan Venegoni also said the plan sets a bad precedent in its attempts to equate graduate students to professionals, a longstanding separation in residential housing that she called a “slippery slope.”
Her biggest concern, she said, was the pedestrian and traffic arrangements that still needed to be addressed.
“How much tax revenue is a life worth when people are running across that street?” she said.
Klinetob said that while a lot of good work had been done on the proposal, three points still concerned her — the upcoming comprehensive rezoning project, that the area predominantly consists of students, and that the core of downtown proposal is more highly suggested for professionals.
While she said she didn’t want to assume what the Planning Commission would prepare for the area during comprehensive rezoning, “I had at least enough doubt that this current proposal would not be the same or similar after a comprehensive rezoning effort, and believe that the staff resources proposed may be better directed at ensuring an enhanced professional zoning district in the core.”
Council President Jim Rosenberger said the council could tinker for another year changing small details of the plan, but ultimately, “perfect is the enemy of good.” Looking back four years, the council spent years of discussion and hundreds of thousands of dollars planning exactly what it wanted for the west end, and nothing has happened.
“Holmes-Foster neighborhood was saying what Highlands neighborhood is saying now,” he said. “Mainly, ‘No, no, no. We don’t want more density.’ And yet that proposal would have put density right at the border of town and gown, right where I think it should be.”
Councilman Peter Morris asked to compare the present zoning of the 500 block of East College with the overlay proposal, questioning which one comes closest to giving them what they want for the block.
“It’s clear to me that the overlay wins,” he said.
One of the things that’s not going to change is a downzoning of almost any block in the borough, he said, which would reduce commercial value of the property.
After the vote, council candidate Janet Engeman said if she were to add anything to what was said, it would be to ask how the borough plans to address construction of a new building without closing a portion of East College or High Street, likening it to the current partial closure of South Fraser Street during the construction of the Fraser Centre.
“This isn’t going to help the tax base that much,” Stone said. “It gets to be symbolic — high buildings mean progress, but when you look at it, it’s not going to do that. It’s an immense distraction, but we’re going to have to move on.”