Re-zoning proposal concerning

For most families, the purchase of a home is the biggest investment they’ll ever make, and protecting that investment is among their most important personal interests.

It’s no wonder then that some Logan Township residents who own properties near Penn State Altoona are concerned about a proposed rezoning that they fear might impact their homes and land negatively sometime in the future, even if not immediately.

If rezoning of the campus’ 39-acre Seminar Forest — to institutional from residential — comes to pass as proposed, there’s no guarantee that the campus will forever remain committed to its current uses of the land in question.

That’s compounded by the fact that the campus would have no legal obligation in that regard, because of this state’s legal restrictions against “contract zoning.”

That means that under the rezoning under consideration, the township couldn’t prohibit certain specific uses that the new zoning classification routinely allows.

For township supervisors, who will be taking action on the rezoning plan based on a recommendation by the township’s planning commission, the decision won’t be as easy as it initially might have appeared, even though at a meeting this summer, supervisors indicated that they favored the move.

The public concern voiced at the latest planning commission meeting has added an additional dimension to the pending “up or down” action, and respectful additional review seems the right way for the supervisors to proceed.

There’s no evidence to doubt the campus’ good intentions; the campus is and has been an excellent partner and citizen of the Greater Altoona area.

But like the township, it is faced with a tough choice:

n Accept the terms of the proposed grant from the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and accept the money, causing some nearby residents’ fears to remain entrenched.

n Forgo the rezoning, withdraw the grant application and lose the benefits of the money that the grant would provide.

DCNR is requiring that the entire Seminar Forest area be rezoned as a condition for grant eligibility.

There’s no question about the laudable intention that’s the basis for seeking the grant and thus the rezoning. The money would be used to pay for a master plan aimed at bolstering the campus’ existing use of the area for environmental science classes and ecological research, not only for the local campus but also possibly for other schools.

The campus also maintains trails on the land that are open to the public.

However, the institutional zoning classification being sought wouldn’t prohibit uses for the land such as dormitories, classroom structures, even for a nursing home; that’s what has some nearby residents worried, despite the campus’ current intentions not to pursue such uses. The residents fear that such construction would ruin the appeal — and perhaps lower the value — of their properties.

They realize that campus needs, physical pressures and intentions could change over time.

Because of its current topography, only a small portion of Seminar Forest is suitable for what the residents’ fear. But whether the now-unsuitable topography could someday be changed is a legitimate concern in the eyes of the nearby residents.

Prior to the supervisors’ rezoning vote, a public hearing will be held. The predominant question is whether that hearing will help allay fears or cause additional ones.

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