Nittany Valley Water Coalition update about Toll Brothers proposed development on Whitehall Road.
History of the fight, what’s happening with the occupation of the site and the negotiations between PSU and Toll Brothers on a possible land swap.
Please join us. State College Municipal Building, Community Room at 7:30 pm, sponsored by the Moshannon Group of the Sierra Club.
Press Release from NVWC:
Toll Brothers identifies alternative sites for student housing
Nittany Valley Water Coalition (NVWC) held a follow-up meeting with Charles Elliott of Toll Brothers developers on Wednesday, August 16 to discuss Toll Brothers’ recent review of alternative State College sites for student housing.
On August 2, NVWC presented Toll with detailed information about PSU lands suitable for building closer to campus.
NVWC has been leading a community effort to pressure Penn State, the current landowner, and Toll to relocate a planned development on Whitehall Road to a site that does not risk local water safety. The current 44 acre site is located uphill from the Thomas-Harter wells.
Elliott and his team have now ranked several PSU properties with respect to zoning and infrastructure and identified several as viable alternatives if township officials and PSU officials will facilitate a “land swap” and any needed approvals.
The top ranked site is located on West College Avenue in front of the Blue Course golf property. Elliott stated that while further corporate economic and structural viability assessments are needed, the alternative site was attractive for its proximity to campus and downtown amenities.
Concerned citizens have occupied the Whitehall Road site continuously for 75 days and will continue community efforts to stop the Whitehall development.
Incoming PSU students and their families will be informed of the issue with a water and flyer distribution on Saturday.
Meanwhile, a citizen appeal is pending in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
For additional information, contact Terry Melton, firstname.lastname@example.org, 814-883-8154, or visit nittanyvalley-eco.org
Press Release from NVWC
Nittany Valley Water Coalition meets with developer Toll Brothers today, August 16, at State College Borough Building at 1 pm for a follow up discussion on a potential land swap.
Pursuant to the previous August 2 meeting in which NVWC members presented alternative PSU properties for Toll Brothers’ Campus Living to locate their planned luxury student housing, Charles Elliott of Toll returns to State College to discuss these options.
NVWC has been opposing the planned development on Whitehall Road on PSU land for over two years due to the development’s location over the area watershed near the Thomas-Harter wells.
Penn State will make in excess of $13 million on the land sale.
An appeal by local farmers and concerned citizens is pending in the case in Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
Moving in weekend is hard work! We will be providing Nittany Valley Water Coalition water to parents and students moving into the dorms on campus during moving in weekend. We will be letting everyone know about Nittany Valley Water Coalition’s battle to prevent luxury student housing from being built over State College’s watershed. Look out for our bicycles and trailers with water dispensers and, of course, our signs–which will make our bikes stand out!
Does this sound familiar? No wonder the community is fed up with Penn State’s behavior and utter lack of concern about our community.
“Campuses expand across cities, often choosing to bank land, awaiting its appreciation, rather than invest in services and infrastructure that would aid the local community.”
Mainstream Media Coverage:
Compiled post-meeting reports by Kelli Hoover and David Hughes:
The August 2, 2017 meeting between Nittany Valley Water Coalition, Toll Brothers and Penn State representatives was positive and productive.
Kelli Hoover, David Hughes and Dave Stone represented the Nittany Valley Water Coalition.
Charles Elliott, Managing Director for Toll Brothers, represented the student housing developer.
Representing the land seller Penn State were Kurt Kissinger, Associate Vice President for Finance and Business; Rob Cooper, Director of Energy and Engineering for Office of Physical Plant; Charima Young, Director of Local Government and Community Relations; and two representatives from communications, including Lisa Powers, Director of News and Media Relations.
David Hughes started off with a presentation on the positives and negatives of the Toll Brothers proposed site. He pointed out on a map all of the sinkholes at the site in comparison to other parts of the region and why it was a good idea for Elliott to consider another location.
Kelli Hoover presented information about Penn State-owned land in Ferguson, College and Patton townships that might be suitable for building student housing, including information water coalition representatives had gleaned from supervisors and staff in those municipalities.
Elliott said he wished stakeholders had had this conversation back in 2012 when Toll Brothers was first looking into State College as a location to build student housing. He also commented that he had looked at other locations in the region but had been told that the travel time by bus from the West Whitehall Road site was shorter than from locations off North Atherton. Elliott also said at the time (5 years ago) there were a lot of complaints from locals about traffic on North. Atherton.
Hughes said that Elliott’s initial reaction seemed “frosty” but that he seemed to warm up as Elliott noticed how much work had been invested by water coalition members; Hughes estimated that more than 1,000 hours of volunteer labor have been put into the campaign, including research on legal issues, water risks and zoning codes.
Water coalition representatives offered their help in talking with municipalities to help gather information and see the process through if any of these other sites may work out.
The meeting finished about 10 minutes early (ran from 11:00 to 11:50 a.m.) and Elliott stayed behind to talk with Penn State representatives without water coalition representatives present.
Hoover, Hughes and Stone went out and talked to the press. Nittany Valley Water Coalition is hoping there will be follow-up in the near future.
From Kelli Hoover:
Monday, July 31, at 12 p.m. on the front steps of Old Main, the College Dems have organized a protest against the Toll Brothers development on our watershed and are delivering a letter to President Barron and the Board of Trustees.
They have notified the press and are asking Nittany Valley Water Coalition supporters to come out and support them with signs and our voices.
We have plenty of signs at the occupation site and we will bring them, so come out and join us.
We will also have flyers to hand out as well and extra yard signs to distribute. Or make and bring your own signs.
Nittany Valley Water Coalition has a meeting scheduled for THIS WEDNESDAY (August 2) with Toll Brothers and PSU representatives to discuss land swap options: a different location for the development,
We need to up the pressure to get PSU to negotiate with us in good faith. This protest will help.
PLEASE JOIN US AT NOON MONDAY ON THE FRONT STEPS OF OLD MAIN.
We are making progress and we need that extra push.
This report is based on information provided by Terry Melton, Kelli Hoover and Mark Huncik to Katherine Watt after the meeting.
Four Nittany Valley Water Coalition representatives met with five Penn State representatives on Tuesday, July 25, in Room 242 of the State College Borough Building, from noon to 1 p.m.
NVWC representatives included Kelli Hoover, Terry Melton, David Hughes and Mark Huncik.
Penn State representatives included Kurt Kissinger, Associate Vice President for Finance and Business; Zack Moore, Vice President for Government and Community Relations; Charima Young, Director of Local Government and Community Relations; Steve Watson, Office of Physical Plant, Director of Campus Planning and Design; and Rob Cooper, OPP, Director of Energy and Engineering.
Although NVWC had asked during a prior meeting for Penn State representatives to provide information on possible alternative sites for the Toll Brothers project, and the Penn State officials had verbally agreed to do so, they did not provide that information ahead of the July 25 meeting.
However, the NVWC representatives prepared thoroughly for the meeting, and presented a report (7.25.17 NVWC Report for PSU Execs) that assembled information on eight “University Planned District” parcels identified in the most-recent UPD District Plan, adopted by some but not all of the regional municipalities in Spring 1999. 1999 UPD District Plan
At the July 25 meeting, Penn State executives offered information on current uses at each site and answered questions about whether or not student housing is an allowable use. According to Hoover, in Penn State “lingo,” non-student housing means student housing not owned by the University.
The parcels identified by NVWC representatives include:
- UPD 3 – 28 acres along College Avenue at/near old OW Houts buildings, south of west campus along to the corner of College Avenue and Blue Course Drive.
- UPD 4 – 91 acres along College Avenue at/near old OW Houts buildings, south of west campus along to the corner of College Avenue and Blue Course Drive.
- UPD 7 – 395 acres east of Overlook Heights, west of Fox Hollow Road, north of campus, south of I-99.
- UPD 9 – 420 acres east and west of Porter Road near PSU sustainability facilities (MorningStar house, community gardens) and pig farm, north of Centre Furnace Mansion.
- UPD 11 – 584 acres east of Overlook Heights, west of Fox Hollow Road, north of Campus, south of I-99.
- UPD 12 – 26 acres along East College Avenue near the Lifelink building past Hampton Inn.
- UPD 14 – 1,111 acres east of Fox Hollow Road, north of I-99, across from The Villages.
- UPD 15 – 108 acres east of Fox Hollow Road, north of I-99, across from The Villages.
Penn State objections
According to Melton, Watson pointed out that rezoning would be needed for each of the proposed parcels
Kissinger stated that, because Penn State has a sales contract with Toll Brothers, Penn State executives can’t look like they’re trying to undermine the contract by proposing alternatives.
Kissinger repeatedly used the term “program” in relation to Toll Brothers proposed housing developments, and stressed uncertainty about whether parts of UPD would “fit” the Toll Brothers program, since some UPD areas have multi-use zoning (including non-residential or commercial uses along with housing).
Penn State executives expressed concern that neighbors in the areas around the alternatives might object to student housing in their neighborhoods, and also expressed concerns about environmental impacts on the Big Hollow water wells near UPD 7.
Moore expressed concern about preservation of natural settings (forested areas) in the parcels identified, particularly UPD 14, comparing removal of trees as contradictory to “preserving nature.”
Water coalition rebuttals
Nittany Valley Water Coalition representatives acknowledged that rezoning would be needed, and said they would support rezoning in an alternative site to promote sustainable, community-respecting development.
Water coalition members pointed out the hypocrisy of Penn State’s position on threats to University water wells and forests as contrasted with the University’s willingness to put the public Thomas and Harter water wells, Slab Cabin Run, and nearby farm fields and forest groves at risk.
Water coalition members noted that there is already student housing in most of the alternative neighborhoods.
Regarding the existing contract, NVWC representatives emphasized that Penn State’s role at this time is simply to identify parcels that the University would consider for a land swap.
Whether Toll Brothers executives accept the land swap offer – to foster positive community relations in the Centre Region – is up to Toll Brothers executives.
At end of meeting, NVWC shared the online PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources map, showing documented sinkholes and depressions in the Centre region, including multiple documented sinkholes in the Whitehall Road/Blue Course Drive property near the intermittent stream and swale.
Although the Penn State executives did not put anything in writing, they verbally agreed to examine the list prepared by NVWC and identify parcels that are feasible from Penn State’s perspective and parcels that are not feasible, including the feasibility of subsections of larger parcels. For example, if one portion of a 500+ acre parcel is not a practical choice, other sections of that same parcel may be workable.
Melton said Penn State executives agreed to forward the information by email to NVWC representatives by Friday, July 28, ahead of the scheduled August 2 trilateral meeting between Hoover, Hughes and Melton (representing the water coalition); Kissinger, Cooper and Young (representing Penn State) and Charles Elliott, Managing Director of Toll Brothers.
Melton said she anticipates Penn State will put forward at least two or three alternatives in their July 28 email, and commented of the July 25 meeting, “It went as well as could have been expected.”
Centre Daily Times reporter Sara Rafacz interviewed meeting participants afterwards, and interviewed Hughes on camera for a forthcoming CDT video report.
Cited in the June 28, 2017 letter to PSU’s David Gray from Ferguson Township Zoning Administrator Jeff Ressler and/or in Kurt Kissinger’s email to NVWC’s Kelli Hoover and David Hughes, and/or possibly relevant.
- FT Ch. 16 Pt. 1 Section 3 – Conduct prohibited in parks includes camping, although the PSU/TB land is not a park.
- FT Ch. 19 Pt. 1 Section 8 – Sign regulations/temporary signs.
- PSU AD51 – Use of Outdoor Areas for Expressive Activities
- PSU AD57 – General Regulations on Use of University Property
Of great interest:
Is Penn State-owned land public land, free for use by the general public as citizens of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, or is it private land, subject to enforcement of trespassing laws against individuals through the police power of the state on behalf of the landowner?
I couldn’t find the Ferguson Township ordinance regarding permission of landowner required for signage placed on a property, cited in the letter as Ch. 19, Part 1, Section 6, #13, but have reached out to Jeff Ressler for clarification.
UPDATE – Revised ordinance, revised on June 5, 2017 (two days after the protest began on June 3, 2017) sent to me by Jeff Ressler:
Relevant phrase is on page 11,
“13. Signs erected without the permission of the property owner, with the exception of those authorized or required by local, state or federal government.”
Which then begs the question, is a peaceful public protest that includes signs “authorized” by Constitutional First Amendment rights?
Posted by Katherine Watt