State College: Real estate company sues to demolish Sears house

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A request to demolish a home at 420 E. Foster Ave. in the historic Holmes-Foster/Highlands district was denied by State College Borough Council.

Center Daily Times, file

A property company recently filed a lawsuit after its request to demolish a Sears house in a historic State College area was rejected by Borough Council.

The borough council voted 6 to 1 on April 4 to reject the company’s formal request to demolish, accepting a recommendation from the borough’s Historic Architectural Review Board (HARB) regarding the rental home at 420 E. Foster Ave. HARB argued that the demolition of such historic homes is only permitted under “extraordinary circumstances,” and Burkentine Properties – along with sister company Penn State Ventures – did not meet those circumstances.

In a lawsuit filed earlier this month by Penn State Ventures, the Hannover-based real estate company argued that the borough council’s decision should be overturned because, among other reasons, it “violated the rights of Ventures to due process and an impartial adjudicative tribunal”. .” Penn State Ventures also accused the borough council of making a decision unsupported by evidence.

The borough has yet to formally respond to the lawsuit and no court date has yet been set.

Burkentine Properties, in conjunction with Penn State Ventures, purchased the home in the historic Holmes-Foster/Highlands neighborhood for $300,000 in October 2020. Burkentine rented the 1938 Sears “Lynnhaven” home to students in the spring but, citing “economic hardship,” is now looking to demolish the house and rebuild it to see an adequate return on investment.

Eric Boeldt, president of the borough’s HARB, succinctly summarized his thoughts during this April 4 meeting.

“If the claimant considers this to be an insufficient return on investment, then the owners have made a poor business decision,” Boeldt said. “And it’s not the fault of the borough or the citizens or the people who love historic neighborhoods.”

The Holmes-Foster/Highlands Historic District is a protected area listed on the National Register of Historic Places as it reflects a number of popular early 20th century architectural styles. Alterations and renovations to many homes in the neighborhood must be formally approved by HARB, and demolition is only permitted under a strict set of circumstances – such as a building that could collapse or in severe financial hardship.

Burkentine argued that the renovations would not make financial sense, as three estimates from February put the repairs at between $715,000 and $750,000. But HARB and borough staff questioned those estimates, saying many of those renovations went way beyond what was needed.

Removal of asbestos siding, for example, is not necessary if the siding remains in good condition. And in a March 1 letter, HARB noted that regular Central Region Code Administration inspections found only minor or moderate issues, such as the need to replace the batteries in the smoke detector. , repair of cracked glazing on the front door and repair of deteriorated garage joists.

Burkentine also noted that it was operating with a net loss of around $5,000 over a 14 month period. But borough officials countered by suggesting the loss was misleading because of a one-time cost of $12,000 for landscaping. Without it, officials said, the real estate company would have made a profit of $7,000.

Board member Deanna Behring didn’t show much empathy last month for the company.

“The critical point for me is that the purchase of this home was on 10/15/20, two years after HARB was approved,” said Behring, who voted against demolition. “So the buyers purchased this property with full knowledge of HARB and its restrictions and guidelines. So that’s the key point for me in my deliberation.

The HARB and two historic neighborhoods were created in late 2017, part of a movement sparked after a landlord sought to demolish one of the Sears homes in the College Heights neighborhood. At that meeting five years ago, former councilman David Brown backed its creation – ostensibly for cases similar to this one. He said at the time that he wanted to prevent real estate agents, developers and speculators from buying up the historic homes only to tear them down or turn them into rentals.

State College Borough has two historic neighborhoods, in Holmes-Foster/Highlands and College Heights. The former has 727 contributing buildings, while the latter has 278.

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The house at 420 E Foster Avenue in the historic district of Holmes-Foster/Highlands. Abby Drey [email protected]

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Josh Moyer earned his BA in Journalism from Penn State and his MS from Columbia. He has been involved in news and sports writing for almost 20 years. He boasts the best athlete he’s ever seen as Tecmo Super Bowl’s Bo Jackson.

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