Big Spring may be beautified

BELLEFONTE – It’s the jewel of Bellefonte, past and present.

But in its current state, the jewel’s beauty is hidden to maintain this status and sustain Bellefonte.

Flowing along the edge of Talleyrand Park, Bellefonte’s Big Spring is covered to meet federal regulations for drinking water classified as groundwater sources. People call this cover “a swimming pool cover” or a “tarp” because of its bluish color, said Ralph Stewart, Bellefonte Borough manager.

“It’s not very attractive,” Stewart said. “There’s reasons for that.”

You can blame the Clean Water Act regulations: the cover must not allow daylight to intrude.

Enter Penn State University students, who will work with the borough’s sustainability program and perhaps come up with something better that still meets regulations.

The process starts with staff taking project ideas and making matches between borough needs and Penn State classes. Next up is a stakeholder meeting, tentatively set for the end of September, that includes the students, professors, Stewart and representatives of borough offices, including finance and budget, to begin crafting some options.

“What we hope to accomplish… is to see if a group of students can come up with something that can be built in the not-too-distant future,” Stewart said.

“Big Spring is such a meaningful and integral location for our community,” he said.

In other business, the council discussed rescheduling a public hearing on zoning/rezoning a 10.5-acre parcel that includes Centre Crest nursing home and other multi-family housing. Previously set for Aug. 20, the hearing was delayed by council to allow the public and other local governments, such as the Centre County Board of Commissioners, time to prepare statements.

Stewart said he expects to know the time frame by the end of the week.

“We are checking with the solicitor on all public notices and making sure we are in compliance,” he said.

Mayor Tom Wilson said he hopes the zoning question and the possibility of disagreement on the decision of whether to change from R4, which is multi-family, to R2, which is town residential, won’t tarnish the relationship between the borough and the county.

“My wish is we’ve done a lot of work to build a relationship with the county,” Wilson said. “I hope it doesn’t get in the way of being able to work together on certain issues.”

Wilson added that for many residents living near or adjacent to Centre Crest, at 502 E. Howard St., the concern is high-density housing.

“There’s a lot of sentiment to keep it R2 and low-density,” Wilson said. “A lot of people in that area don’t want to see apartments or Section 8.”

Section 8 is a federal housing choice voucher program.

The zoning designation is not in stone, Wilson said. Stewart agrees, pointing out that 2007 was the last time the parcels in question were zoned to R4.

“And before that, they were medium-density residential,” he said.

The joint borough/county meeting scheduled for 7 p.m., Monday, Sept. 10 at the Courthouse Annex will not address this zoning issue. Both Stewart and Wilson say the public hearing will serve to inform the community about zoning definitions while this joint meeting aims to inform residents about ongoing projects and allow issues to be raised and questions to be answered.

“It’s an opportunity for citizens to voice concerns and raise questions, maybe make suggestions,” Stewart said. “This is the third or fourth time we’ve done this. It helps get communication out to the public.”

In other matters, the council discussed a Zoning Hearing Board decision regarding the former Catherman’s Service Center, 312 Willowbank Road, and a potential nonconforming use for independent car sales. At issue was the zoning administrator’s claim that car sales was a new use for the property and a license was needed, while testimony during the hearing indicated that automobiles were sold there while the property operated as a service station.

No action was taken as this discussion occurred during a work session before the meeting was called to order. However, two council members reiterated concerns voiced in an earlier meeting from residents over parking, traffic and visuals.

Stewart said the council has 30 days once the written report is received to appeal the zoning board’s decision.