Penn State board of trustees approves additional sale of Whitehall Road land for housing

jvanderk@centredaily.comSeptember 20, 2013 

— The move toward a 1,600-bedroom housing development for students advanced Friday with a Penn State board of trustees vote to sell additional land to Toll Bros.

The Horsham developer first detailed its concept before Ferguson Township officials last December. The development would sit off of the intersection of Whitehall Road and Blue Course Drive, extending Blue Course and allowing access to the future Whitehall Road Regional Parkland.

In May 2012, Penn State’s board approved the sale of two Whitehall Road parcels, a total of 40.39 acres, to Toll Bros. subsidiary Springton Pointe LP for $13.5 million. The land is zoned multifamily residential R4 in Ferguson.

Despite months of work on the deal and development so far, Toll Bros. indicated to the university that it could not justify the purchase price unless Penn State includes additional land to house stormwater facilities.

The board did so during Friday’s meeting, adding an adjacent 5.5 acres, zoned agricultural. The land will allow Toll Bros. a higher density on the original land parcels.

“The university is confident this remains a beneficial financial transaction,” Dan Sieminski, associate vice president for finance and business, told the finance committee on Thursday.

He said agricultural land in this area is worth $12,000 to $15,000 an acre, making the additional parcel worth, at most, $82,500.

David Gray, senior vice president for finance and business, told the full board Friday that Springton/Toll Bros. offered Penn State a lower price for the land, and the university negotiated back to the original $13.5 million, including the additional 5.5 acres.

Trustee Bill Oldsey asked during Thursday’s finance committee meeting whether Ferguson Township would be on board with the Toll Bros. plan.

“Our hope is that they are fairly inclined to proceed with Toll’s plans,” Sieminski said.

Ferguson officials haven’t discussed the plan since December, but Toll Bros. is scheduled to appear before the Planning Commission on Oct. 14 and the Board of Supervisors on Oct. 21, according to Manager Mark Kunkle.

Kunkle said the developer will, again, present a concept plan, which is not part of the formal land development plan approval process. Toll Bros. will seek reaction and feedback from the officials.

Toll proposed three- and four-story buildings for the site, both apartments and townhomes, and Kunkle said he believes the configuration has changed. A Toll Bros. representative did not return a message seeking comment Friday.

“I’m not sure the number of units is any fewer,” Kunkle said.

Back in December, the supervisors asked questions about parking, stormwater, drainage and the township provision allowing only three unrelated people to live together. Some of the proposed units had five bedrooms.

Trisha Lang, planning and zoning director at the time, said Toll Bros. may look at a planned residential development process, a zoning change that gives a developer more flexibility — such as more unrelated people per unit — and the township more negotiating power.

The Retreat, in College Township and State College, successfully worked through a PRD process in that township, and is allowed up to five unrelated people per unit.

Another issue that will affect Toll Bros.’ plans is a disagreement about where the Ferguson, College and Harris Township boundaries lie.

While the three townships agree on the boundary locations, neighboring residents in Tussey View Estates do not.

The issue is in the process of receiving a county court hearing, and the next hearing time is set for 10 a.m. Oct. 10, in Centre County Courtroom 1.

Jessica VanderKolk can be reached at 235-3910. Follow her on Twitter @jVanReporter.

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