Borough Council Considering Conditional Use Permit For Garner Street Lot Development

After a speedy second Council meeting for new State College Mayor Don Hahn, Borough Council held a public hearing to discuss a high-rise development proposed for the current location of the Garner Street Lot.

Preliminary plans for the development were submitted in November by CA Student Living, the company currently building The Rise on College Avenue, and the Friedmans.

CA Student Living’s Dan Hrankowsky said during the public hearing the building would be 14 stories on the Calder Way side and 12 stories on the Beaver Avenue side. The first two floors on the Beaver Avenue side of the building would be occupied by the Hillel community center, which was previously slated for that side of the lot. Upper floors would be residential space and amenities for residents of the building. Plans also include an underground parking garage.

The U-shaped building would feature a retail courtyard in the center, with a monumental staircase leading up from Calder Way. The first two floors on the east and west sides of the building are designated for retail space. Hrankowsky said CA Student Living plans for the retail space to include restaurants and more “experience-type” businesses, as well as smaller storefront spaces to promote the development of local business.
Council’s two primary concerns with the project are pedestrian safety, which is already an issue on Garner Street, and inclusionary housing, which was included in many candidates’ campaign platforms during this year’s Council election.
Councilman Evan Myers discussed issues with the width of sidewalks, especially adjacent to tall buildings like the proposed high-rise. Councilwoman Theresa Lafer suggested blocking the sidewalk off from the street somehow, like with shrubbery, to prevent pedestrians from easily walking off the sidewalk into the street.

“Shrubbery is easily picked up,” Lafer said. “You have no idea until you watch trees travel in undergraduate hands.” She added Garner Street is treated like a walkway, and accidents that occur there because of this have become an issue, in her experience.

Lafer also raised concern over the building plan’s lack of inclusionary housing, like workforce housing or young professionals housing. Living options downtown for young professionals were a major issue in this year’s election as Council hopes to make a priority of keeping Penn State graduates around and attracting other young professionals to live in the Borough.

“We have absolutely no place in this for workforce housing or young professional housing, both of which are extremely important to the community,” Lafer said.

Developers are able to identify external space for the required amount of inclusionary housing, or pay the Borough a certain amount of money in lieu of this to be allocated to other affordable housing coalitions. Lafer said she’d like a clear statement of intent from CA Student Living on how this will be handled if the permit is to be approved.

It’s important to note this hearing was only for Phase I of the entire project — the building between Beaver Avenue and Calder Way. Phase II of the project would include another building between Calder Way and College Avenue, likely with a courtyard in between the two. However, Phase I of the project is self-sustainable and not at all contingent on approval of Phase II.

The conditional use permit starts the process and approves certain requirements that have to be met before final land development approval. Even if Borough Council approve the conditional use permit, they’ll still have to grant final approval for the development again later.
Council is expected to approve or deny the conditional use permit at its February 5 regular meeting.

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Elissa Hill

Elissa is a junior public relations major and the managing editor of Onward State. She is from Punxsutawney, PA [insert corny Bill Murray joke here] and considers herself an expert on all things ice cream. Send questions and comments via e-mail ([email protected]) and follow her on Twitter (@ElissaKHill) for more corny jokes.

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