Press Release 6-11-17

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – JUNE 11, 2017

 

NITTANY VALLEY WATER COALITION APPEALS THE TOLL BROTHERS DEVELOPMENT APPROVAL TO THE PA SUPREME COURT, PETITIONS PSU TO BREAK SALES CONTRACT, AND OCCUPIES SITE


Contact information:
Kelli Hoover
Nittany Valley Water Coalition
Kxhoover2015@gmail.com
814-883-4854

STATE COLLEGE PA – Nittany Valley Water Coalition members have directed our attorney to file an appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court of the ruling by the Commonwealth Court that would allow the Toll Brothers’ Cottages Development to go forward, destroying the farmland and open space that runs along Whitehall Road at Blue Course Drive, just down the road from the State College YMCA.

We are supporting a petition by Friends of Slab Cabin asking Penn State to withdraw from the sales contract, and on June 3, we launched an occupation of the site.

We are working to protect our public health and safety, by protecting the State College Borough Water Authority public drinking water wells at the downstream Harter and Thomas wellfields.

We are working to protect our rural culture, our sense of place and our farming families, by protecting productive farmland from runoff flooding and conversion to housing, roads and parking lots.

We are working to protect one of the most beautiful rural vistas in our region.

And we are working to protect our right to local government that acts with transparency and integrity to protect public health and safety.

All those things will soon be lost if Corporate Penn State goes through with plans to sell 44 acres of this farmland, upslope of Slab Cabin Run and the Thomas-Harter wellfields, to Toll Brothers to build a huge, luxury student apartment complex housing 1000 students and their cars.

Since 2015, almost 3,000 people have signed petitions opposing this development, spoken out at Penn State Board of Trustees meetings, written letters to the editor of the Centre Daily Times, donated more than $26,000 to support a land use appeal lawsuit against Ferguson Township and Toll Brothers, and as of one week ago, set up tents to occupy the site to bring attention to this situation.

Since the tent encampment began on June 3, hundreds of people have stopped by, including neighbors, local farmers, and alumni. All are opposed to this development. They have brought food and encouragement to stick with our efforts to protect this land.

It’s been heartbreaking to meet neighbors and local farmers who stop by to tell us that because of Toll Brothers they are selling their homes or may no longer be able to farm due to increased flooding from runoff from this development.

Why are we concerned about risks to our water supply and Slab Cabin Run from this development?

The proposed high-density housing development site sits on a karst limestone/dolomite hill, traversed by an intermittent stream, in an area pocked with existing sinkholes, less than a mile upgradient from the shallow Harter and Thomas wellfields.

In 2006, dye trace studies conducted by the State College Borough Water Authority (SCBWA) showed that dyes released in the upper Slab Cabin Run watershed, although not released from the Toll Brothers site itself, appeared downstream in the Harter and Thomas wellfield within 2-3 days.

Many earlier studies dating back to 1966 revealed a complex network of underground channels connecting surface and subsurface water flows, and were cited in a 2007 SCBWA Sourcewater Protection Report. Then in May 2013 and December 2014, CMT Technologies conducted infiltration analyses at the Toll Brothers/PSU parcel.

Taken together, these reports support the Nittany Valley Water Coalition position: Land development activity within the Zone 2 recharge area of the Harter and Thomas wellfields increases the risks of contaminating public water supplies.

Toll Brothers representatives suggest they will implement mitigations to reduce the risks. But acceptance of Toll Brothers position means trusting that Toll Brothers is accurately reporting the risks and the effectiveness of their proposed mitigation. It means trusting that local government officials are accurately representing public health and safety interests and are staffed and trained to supervise proper implementation. It means trusting that subcontractors will follow the design plans to the letter and that none of the mitigations will fail, especially with climate change bringing more frequent and more dramatic rain events. It means trusting that if the mitigation strategies do fail, the breaches will be identified quickly and that disaster response programs will be implemented rapidly, effectively and with comparable long-term operating costs. Currently Ferguson Township has no mechanisms in place to respond to violations or failures of the stormwater management system.

We do not trust Toll Brothers, which has a reputation for poor workmanship and a long list of infractions of the Clean Water Act polluting local waterways and paying large settlement fees with the EPA.

We no longer trust local government officials, who, in 2004 at landowner Penn State’s request, removed protections placed on this land for decades, and then in 2015, gave their blessing to the Toll Brothers’ dangerous development plan and violated their own zoning ordinance.

And we do not trust Penn State officials’ two-facedness: public claims of caring about our community coupled with angry private statements – with no supporting evidence – that the project poses no risks and that they are unable to break the sales contract.

For more information:

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Nittany-Valley-Water-Coalition/411453045714666
http://nittanyvalley-eco.org
https://steadystatecollege.wordpress.com/

 

Occupation is 1 week old!

Update from Kelli Hoover of Nittany Valley Water Coalition:

Thanks to all who came out to the encampment yesterday for our meeting of the Nittany Valley Water Coalition. There were about 25 people there and the energy was contagious. Lots of new faces and people are really stepping up to fight the Toll Brothers development, i.e., Penn State.

We had people step up to coordinate various activities and here is the information about who to email to offer your help on a specific task.

Item #1: Your presence at the occupation; please stop by the occupation on West Whitehall near Blue Course Dr. whenever you can. There is parking right across the street at High Point Park. Coordinator: Joe Cusumano at jpcusumano@gmail.com. Even if you can only stop by for 15 minutes a few days a week, please let Joe know because he is trying to ensure there is always someone there, especially if you can camp out there overnight. There are plenty of tents.

Item #2: No Tolls signs need to get out in people’s yards. David Hughes has them in his garage and can be reached at: davidpeterhughes@gmail.com, or text his cell: 814-777-7366. We have about 700 still to go out. We are asking for a $6 donation for each sign, BUT the most important thing is to get them out, so give them to people who have a yard to put them whether or not they want to give a donation. You can also ask for someone’s address if they aren’t in a position to take a sign at that moment and we have a list of people who will drop them off.

Item #3: Write a letter to the editor of the Centre Daily Times and/or to the Board of Trustees of PSU. This is being coordinated by Erin at etreanore@gmail.com.

Item #4: Post on social media. Any Facebook pages you belong to or have of your own, post about why you oppose the Toll Brothers development. Also post on our FB page at https://www.facebook.com/Nittany-Valley-Water-Coalition-411453045714666/. Like our page; the more hits the better.

Also, Terry Melton is using Twitter and you can follow her at: @twm107

Or tweet yourself about occupation at the Toll Brothers site to stop development. Protect Slab Cabin Run!

Item #5: Press contact. There have been numerous press reps stop by the site and we have sent out several press releases. If you have an item that you think should go to the press, let me know. Press coordinator: Kelli Hoover kxhoover2015@gmail.com

Item #6: Donations to cover legal fees for the appeal to the Supreme Court and signs. If you want to make a donation, you can stop at the site or send a check to: CommunityWise at PO Box 1256, State College PA 16804.

What a great community we have. If only Penn State felt that we deserved better treatment.

What We Want

We want PSU to place the land into a long-term easement, advanced low-impact experimental farm for education and research, a passive recreation or nature education place, or some combination of these.

This is the best use of this land and makes it compatible with the conservation easement by ClearWater Conservancy to protect Slab Cabin Run and the Harter-Thomas wells.
There is a lot of community support for this and would improve Penn State’s reputation with the region.

#NoToll Occupation Begins June 3

NEW WEBSITE

Nittany Valley Water Coalition has a new website, set up by Ian Boswell, in addition to the NVWC Facebook page. I’ll post a link to the NVWC website in the right sidebar.

 

NEW VIDEO

There’s a new video on the issues, made by Andy McKinnon and Ben Andrew:

ONLINE PETITION

There is also an online petition to sign, created by Lori Bedell: “Demand that Penn State act as a responsible steward to our community’s water.”

YARD SIGNS

Yard signs have been designed and ordered by David Hughes and will be available next week.

OCCUPATION DETAILS

The occupation begins at 9 a.m. on Saturday, June 3 near the intersection of Whitehall Road and Blue Course Drive. Bring food, water, hats, sunscreen, homemade signs, tents, sleeping bags. Check the NVWC Facebook page for more logistics details as they become available.

MORE INFORMATION

Open Letter and Informational Flier:

Press Release 5-30-17

NITTANY VALLEY WATER COALITION APPEALS THE TOLL BROTHERS DEVELOPMENT APPROVAL TO THE PA SUPREME COURT

May 30, 2017

FERGUSON TOWNSHIP – Nittany Valley Water Coalition members have directed our attorney to file an appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court of the ruling by the Commonwealth Court that would allow the Toll Brothers’ Cottages Development to go forward.

The Commonwealth Court of PA ruled against our attempt to block this development on a technicality, not on the merits of the case, conclusively demonstrating that Pennsylvania courts use a double standard; they do not enforce the law equally and fairly.

The original March 2, 2015 “tentative PRD” approval and the November 16, 2015 “final PRD” approval by the Ferguson Township Board of Supervisors, were both adopted alongside an illegal “subdivision and lot consolidation” approval, in violation of Ferguson Township zoning ordinances, which are binding rules implementing the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code (MPC) at the local level.

Under the MPC, Ferguson Township had two ways to legally change the zoning for 5.5 acres of Rural Agricultural land outside the Regional Growth Boundary/Sewer Service Area that the developers – Toll Brothers, under contract to land seller Penn State University – want to use for a large stormwater detention facility. The supervisors had to refer the application to the Ferguson Township Zoning Hearing Board for a variance hearing, to make specific findings that the developer met five “hardship” conditions for waiver eligibility. Or they had to rezone the parcel from Rural Agricultural to some other zoning classification eligible for conversion to Planned Residential Development zoning, which requires regional review and approvals. They did neither.

As explained to the supervisors in written reports by then Centre Region Planning Agency Senior Planner Autumn Radle, and then-Ferguson Township Planning & Zoning Director Maria Tranguch in January and February 2015, stormwater detention is not a permitted use of Rural Agricultural zoned land under Ferguson Township law. Residential housing development is not a COG-endorsed use of land outside the Regional Growth Boundary. Toll Brothers could not meet all five “hardship” requirements to be eligible for a variance, and their application was never referred to the Zoning Hearing Board for review.

Rural Agricultural land is not eligible for direct conversion to PRD zoning, and inclusion of the 5.5-acre parcel within the RGB through subdivision and lot consolidation required regional authorization through the Centre Region Council of Governments under the 2013 RGB/SSA Implementation Agreement.

Further, under Ferguson Township zoning law, Rural Agricultural land may not be rezoned for other uses in parcels less than 50-acres, to avoid fragmentation of arable land.

The Ferguson Township Board of Supervisors violated zoning procedures and substantive local zoning laws, and had their illegal acts reversed by Centre County Court of Common Pleas Judge Jonathan Grine in July 2016. Grine explicitly wrote that the supervisors’ and developers’ arguments were “essentially an attempted end-run around complying with the zoning ordinance applicable to the RA District.”

By order May 17, a Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court panel reversed Judge Grine’s order and reinstated the original Ferguson Township approvals, not based on the merits of the case, but based on plaintiffs’ failure to follow a different set of MPC procedures: those governing land use appeals, which require filing within 30 days of the Tentative PRD approval. Plaintiffs filed within 30 days of the Final PRD approval.

Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court judges have now clearly shown that they will allow elected supervisors and developers to violate MPC procedures and substantive local zoning law with absolute impunity, while holding concerned citizens fully accountable for MPC procedural errors committed during efforts to compel elected officials to comply with local and state law.

This double standard is just plain wrong.

The citizens of this region will not give up our fight to stop this development and protect our public water supply and regional agricultural land.

Further, we emphasize that the ClearWater Conservancy Slab Cabin Run Initiative to preserve 300 acres of farmland surrounding the threatened Thomas-Harter wells could be completely ineffective if this development upslope of the wells goes forward.

We will hold Ferguson Township Supervisor Steve Miller (who voted to approve this PRD) as well as Penn State University fully responsible if and when this development goes forward and our drinking water supply becomes contaminated.

Further, we highlight that Penn State University is willing to violate its own strategic plan that includes being good stewards of our natural resources, including protecting our water, all for the sake of profit on real estate. They have indicated to us that they are just the sellers and are not responsible for what happens after that.

Contact information:
Kelli Hoover
Nittany Valley Water Coalition
Kxhoover2015@gmail.com
814-883-4854