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Next phase of Penn State Harrisburg housing in works; homes would be torn down on 7 acres

By David Barr

davidbarr@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 10/11/17

More off-campus student housing could be on its way for Penn State Harrisburg students.

At the Oct. 4 Lower Swatara Township board of commissioners workshop meeting, Matthew Genesio, co-owner of …

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Next phase of Penn State Harrisburg housing in works; homes would be torn down on 7 acres

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More off-campus student housing could be on its way for Penn State Harrisburg students.

At the Oct. 4 Lower Swatara Township board of commissioners workshop meeting, Matthew Genesio, co-owner of College Town Communities, presented designs for the third and final phase of the Campus Heights Village project. It would build 14 residential buildings in 4 clusters on 7 acres in the Eagle Heights neighborhood, surrounded by Dauphin Street, North Lawrence Street, and West High Street, and split by North Wood Street.

He expects the project to be completed in four years if a necessary zoning change is made. It would provide 336 more “beds,” he said. That would bring to 780 the total number of beds in what would be three phases of Campus Heights Village. Phase I installed 264 beds and Phase II brought in 180 more for a total of 444 beds.

He did not know a total cost of this phase of the project.

Lower Swatara Board President Jon Wilt told the Press & Journal on Friday that the third phase would be the largest of the phases involved in the project, and will bring additional revenue to the township and county.

“It’s a good type of responsible growth. It’s a needed service they’re providing. I don’t see a negative with it,” Wilt said.

The company’s website, www.collegetowncommunities.com, lists several types of housing, floor plans and costs for the current locations. Campus Heights is at 505 N. Lawrence St. The Schoolhouse Lofts are at 232 Ann St. Campus Heights Townhouses are at 355 Gina Lane.

There are about a dozen homes sitting on the land where College Town Communities plans to build the third phase that would have to be removed. 

“I’ve spoken with a lot of the folks up in that Eagle Heights neighborhood and I’ve been able to get them all under contract to purchase their homes if we can get the third and final phase of Campus Heights approved,” Genesio told the board.

That wouldn’t have happened without persuasion from some of the homeowners in the Eagle Heights neighborhood. At a township meeting about five years ago, Rod and Bonnie Kiner of Wood Street suggested to Genesio that he buy out the homeowners in the Eagle Heights neighborhood. They had held a neighborhood-wide meeting after Phase II started and convinced their neighbors it was in their best interest to sell to Genesio.

Kiner said he expects they will leave their home in the next 1 1/2 to 2 years. He has no idea where they’ll go or what they’ll do when the time comes to leave, but he’s not concerned.

“If we were worried or upset, we wouldn’t have taken the deal,” Kiner said. “If they (the neighbors) weren’t happy, they never would have taken the contract.”

The Kiners began talks with Genesio about him buying them out in the beginning of the summer, and Rod said things were finalized recently.

“We’re just looking forward to getting out of here,” Kiner said.

Lillian DeHart of Wood Street will leave the community she and her husband, Peter, have called home for 40 years.

DeHart said they were ready for this as they have reached the point in their lives where they need to start thinking about other housing. Their current house needs some work done and it’s getting harder for the both of them to keep up with it.

DeHart said moving will be harder on her daughters, because that is where they grew up. For her, it won’t be as difficult, because she doesn’t become attached to things and she’s used to moving as she did that a bit as a child. For now, she said she hasn’t thought about the actual leaving part yet.

“It won’t hit me until that actual time,” DeHart said.

A zoning change is needed because the site is zoned as residential urban property. It needs to be changed to a commercial neighborhood district and then a special exception granted to allow the project. 

College Town Communities successfully lobbied for an amendment to the zoning ordinance in 2011, when the first phase of the project started. The property where the first phase and Nittany Village were constructed was in a commercial neighborhood district, and a special exception was granted, Genesio said. The same happened with Phase II.

“It complies from a coverage standpoint, parking requirements, that sort of thing. We designed this based on comments that were made to us during the development of the first and second phases here,” Genesio told the board.

“What we’re proposing and what’s drawn here pretty much fully complies with the zoning ordinance as it stands in the CN zoning district,” Genesio said.

The board unanimously approved referring the plan to both the county and township planning commissions. It will be on the township planning commission agenda for its meeting at 7 p.m. Oct. 24. The Dauphin County Planning Commission meets on the first Monday of the month at 4 p.m., so the county can’t review the plan until the Nov. 6 meeting.

After being reviewed by both commissions, it will return to the Lower Swatara commissioners, and the board will schedule a public hearing because it involves a zoning ordinance change.

While this project will result in additional housing for Penn State Harrisburg students, the project is off campus and therefore not university housing. Genesio said no more housing is currently planned for students at Penn State Harrisburg by his company.

PSU-Harrisburg issued a statement from Yvonne Harhigh, associate director of marketing research and communications, saying that “while we will periodically brief developers on our plans for the growth of the college community and campus, we are not a part of the decision-making process on any off campus development projects.”

There isn’t an immediate worry about housing, but officials are positive the units will be filled, according to an email from Kalisha DeVan, marketing and communications manager for Penn State Harrisburg.

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