Council took the first steps Monday night to expand downtown student housing -- a process that could level Canyon Pizza to make room for a new student apartment high rise.
The State College Borough Council voted 5-1 to ask the State College Planning Commission to look into a "student incentive overlay district," which aims to increase downtown student housing and is something the borough has never undertaken before, said Planning Director Carl Hess.
The changes would increase how many people can live at certain downtown properties to make room for apartment complexes. One of those properties is 250 E. Beaver Ave., where Canyon Pizza and the Sozo Art Institute are located.
But the apartments would have
to follow new building codes that would keep students safe -- such as on-site resident managers, security cameras, centralized exits and no balconies.
Hess said he expects the commission to work on creating an ordinance in the next several months.
Currently, 250 E. Beaver Ave. is zoned R-2 -- a type of residential zoning that does not allow the population density required for an apartment complex.
Council would have to vote to include the property in the Commercial Incentive District, where apartment complexes are allowed.
Council member Silvi Lawrence was the only dissenting vote. She said she was hesitant to support discussion of zoning changes that were spurred by a single construction project.
Hess said in order to avoid an illegal procedure called "spot zoning," property to the north and east of Canyon Pizza might be included in the new zoning district.
Spot zoning occurs when the zoning of a particular lot is different than the areas surrounding it and can be hard to avoid, Borough Solicitor Terry Williams said.
"Spot zoning is like pornography," he said. "It's hard to define, but you know it when you see it."
Hess said other student-heavy areas might be included in the overlay-zoning district -- even ones that aren't downtown. He cited apartment complexes on Waupelani Drive as an example.
Other council members voted to send the issue to further discussion, but were quick to point out that didn't mean they supported it.
Theresa Lafer said designing buildings solely for students encourages the "ghettoization" of Beaver Canyon, since older residents wouldn't want to live in apartments without balconies or windows that open more than four inches, two of the requirements under the student incentive zoning plan.
Others at the meeting recognized a need for more student housing near campus.
Hess called the potential overlay zoning area an opportunity to build more "quality student housing."
And while Mayor Elizabeth Goreham said she expects negative reactions from nearby fraternities and businesses on the property, one nearby fraternity president doesn't seem bothered by the possibility of a high-rise next door.
Alex Quercetti, president of the Phi Kappa Sigma fraternity, 234 E. Beaver Ave., said even though his chapter could potentially be situated next to an eight-story building rather than a two-story building, he is not against the project.
"It might ruin our view a little bit," Quercetti (junior-architectural engineering) said. "But we need more student housing, and Canyon Pizza is kind of an eyesore right now."
William Snyder is the owner of the SoZo Art Institute, 256 E. Beaver Ave., one of the businesses that could be leveled.
He said while the HFL Corporation has talked to him about a partnership, he is not sure what will be happening to his business.
Snyder couldn't say whether he thought a reconstruction project would be a "positive or negative" for his store.