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State College Borough Council Rejects Request To Close Street For High-Rise Construction

State College Borough Council voted 4-2 on Monday to deny a developer’s request to close a portion of Hetzel Street for about two years during the construction of a high-rise apartment building.

Chicago-based Core Spaces and its construction manager Massaro Corporation sought to close Hetzel Street between East College Avenue and East Calder Way from December 22 until November 28, 2023, for the construction of the 12-story mixed-use building. Pedestrian access would be maintained on the east side of Hetzel, but the closure would have meant through traffic would be prohibited on Hetzel from East College Avenue to East Beaver Avenue.

Under the rejected proposal, the road would be open for one lane of traffic during special event periods such as Penn State football weekends and student apartment move-in. Vehicle and pedestrian access would be maintained on Calder and College, though a covered, lit walkway would be installed adjacent to the project site on College, where five parking spaces also would likely be closed as part of the agreement.

Demolition of four existing buildings on the project site along College Avenue, Hetzel Street, and Calder Way is scheduled to take place from September 30 to mid-December, but that would not impact traffic.

Mayor Ron Filippelli, who lives near the construction site, said that in cities like New York and Philadelphia, much larger buildings are constructed on streets often no wider than Hetzel without closing the roadway.

“Why can’t you build a building without taking a street out for two years?” Filippelli asked. “Hetzel Street is a main thoroughfare for people who live in the…east Highlands. That street is a busy street…I don’t understand why you can’t adjust to that.”

Borough engineering consultant Andy Arnold replied that it would be “cost-prohibitive.”

“You’re saying it’s cost-prohibitive to the developer,” Filippelli replied. “OK, so to hell with the neighborhood. That’s essentially what you’re saying. You could build the building without closing the street, am I right?”

Arnold said that it would be possible to do so.

Michael Clements, project manager for Massaro Corporation, said the primary reason for closing Hetzel was materials access. Trucks would turn from College onto Hetzel, unload materials to be delivered up the 12 stories, then be let through to continue south to Beaver Avenue.

“Without that, it’s more time-consuming, and yes, there’s a cost aspect to it, but the length of time it would take to build this without this closure would be substantial,” Clements said. “While we will be impacting traffic while we’re there, we feel like we’ll be minimizing the duration at which we’ll physically be there by doing this.”

Council members asked for clarifications about the proposal but mostly offered little feedback. Councilman Evan Myers, who ultimately voted in the minority in favor of the closure, echoed Filippelli’s question about why the street needed to be closed and asked borough staff about hardships caused by previous extended road closures.

Staff had recommended approving the Core Spaces proposal and Borough Manager Tom Fountaine said they have made adjustments over the years to how they manage road closures for construction. Hetzel Street was closed entirely for about 18 months during the construction of The Legacy at the corner of Beaver Avenue, and South Fraser Street was closed for two years while the Fraser Centre was being built. More often in recent years, closures have been partial or limited to one lane.

“It really relates to a combination of factors, including construction management, safely moving pedestrians and vehicles through those areas as best we can,” Fountaine said. “In this case, unlike the closure at Hetzel previously, we have been able to work with the developer to have some access within that area. The advantage of being in an urbanized area is there’s always a street a block away that you can also use to maneuver through those kinds of detours and around those sorts of construction sites.”

That wasn’t sufficient for council, however, as members Jesse Barlow, Deanna Behring, Peter Marshall, and Katherine Yeaple voted no. Janet Engeman joined Myers in voting yes. Theresa Lafer was absent.

Core Spaces submitted plans in 2019 for the new, 151-foot tall building which will have two floors of retail and office space and 10 floors of apartments. The plans were approved in 2020.

Artist’s rendering of the 12-story mixed use building planned for the corner of East College Avenue and Hetzel Street, viewed from College Avenue. Image: Antunovich Associates/Core Spaces via State College Borough

The first two floors will have 36,448 square feet of retail and office space. The first floor will be predominantly retail, while the second floor could be retail or office and will also have five apartment units. The remaining 10 floors will have 13 apartments each for a total of 135 units, including a mix of one-, two-, four- and five-bedroom apartments accommodating a total of 493 beds. The total residential floor area is 181,318 square feet.

Three levels of underground parking will have 172 spaces, including nine for patrons of the commercial tenants.

Properties at 472, 480, 482, 484 E. College Ave.; 108, 110, 112, 114 Hetzel Street; and 471 E. Calder Way will be demolished for the new building. Those addresses are within four buildings and included Garden House apartments, Eddie’s Bicycles and Hockey Equipment, George’s Floral Boutique, Gio’s Hair Design, Pizza Mia, other apartments, and a one-story house on Calder.

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About the Author

Geoff Rushton (StateCollege.com)

Geoff Rushton is managing editor for StateCollege.com. Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.

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