State College mayoral candidate Don Hahn has served 12 of the last 22 years on the State College Borough Council, only taking breaks to run for state representative and for term limits. He’s a Penn State alumnus and a Centre County native, making State College one of his top priorities.
“From the very start, my goal was to keep State College a great place to grow up, to get an education, and to raise a family,” he said.
Hahn, also a two-year Council president, was at first hesitant to take the post because he was concerned about needing to represent the opinion of the council as a whole rather than his individual opinions.
“I had been rather outspoken in terms of some differences I had with the rest of Council,” he said.
During his term as Council president, Hahn allowed newer members of Council to take higher positions to gain experience while he and his predecessor were still on Council to advise them so the transition at the end of their terms would be smoother.
He also made it a point to respond to letters sent to Council, and at that point, ask questions to community members who spoke during the Council’s public hour. Now, students and other residents who speak before Council don’t receive a response due to a change in policy.
Hahn knows what it’s like to be on the other side of the bench and prides himself on his status as a Penn State alumnus, touting Penn State for the fantastic job it does educating students and the community.
“Penn State has alumni support that is a bigger support than just football,” Hahn said. “For example, I think alumni support would basically evidence itself in other ways if there were no football.”
This year’s municipal election is especially important, as the Borough is reviewing its zoning code for the first time in decades. Hahn served two years on the Planning Commission between his first and second terms on Council, so he’s familiar with the code and what it entails.
Hahn said he hopes to see the zoning code incorporate more incentive zoning for things like green building, using local construction materials, providing more affordable housing components, and creating step-backs to avoid the “Beaver Canyon effect.” He emphasized the importance of preserving the pedestrian friendliness of downtown State College and the local shopping experience, as well as creating the opportunity for retirees to live comfortably within walking distance of downtown.
“More density and more height is probably in the cards for our future zoning,” Hahn said. “It just has to be done in a way that is incremental, a manner that would be reasonable for the Holmes Foster neighborhood to accept.”
As for the possibility of a pedestrian mall on the 100 block of Allen Street, Hahn believes it’s best to attack it incrementally and see what works.
“I think there’s a lot of restaurants downtown that I think would love to have that extra space during the summer, with which to provide their services,” he said. “I think what we should do is we should explore it during the summer and see where it goes from there.”
In addition to zoning, another issue at the forefront of the election is how the Borough can earn additional revenue to sustain itself and provide the services that improve residents’ daily lives. Hahn has a generally negative feeling toward a drink tax, but would rather explore the possibility of tapping into state liquor store profits to help counties like Centre County deal with alcohol-related crimes.
Other initiatives Hahn is passionate about include following in current Mayor Elizabeth Goreham’s footsteps to lobby for sustainability and entrepreneurship and to follow the precedent he set as Council president to appoint a student representative to each of the Borough’s various boards and commissions.
“You could have seven intelligent, well-intentioned people, but if they think similarly, they basically have a vulnerability in missing a certain perspective, and I think it’s important to have that,” Hahn said of including student representation. “I actually would prefer if the student representative actually sit on the bench with the rest of Council.”
Hahn emphasized he’s got the experience necessary to excel if elected mayor, including relationships with various stakeholders, with whom he’s already discussed his ideas and initiatives. He hopes to create more regular and respectful communications to make State College a model of town and gown relations statewide.
This is the first in a three-part series profiling the candidates for State College mayor. Election Day is Tuesday, November 7.