The future of the proposed Whitehall Road Regional Park is unclear, thanks in part to a recent ruling regarding Ferguson Township and the Toll Brothers.
Intended to be constructed across from the intersection of West Whitehall Road and Blue Course Drive in Ferguson Township, the proposed park consists of 100 acres of baseball fields, tennis courts, paths and gardens that would have sat adjacent to the proposed Cottages at State College student housing development. The master plan was last modified in 2013.
However, due to a recent Centre County court ruling vacating the township Board of Supervisor’s approval of the Cottages project, the planned access road leading to the future parkland, along with utility services, were potentially eliminated.
The issue of the planned access road elimination is compounded by the fact that a $300,000 grant to the Centre Region Parks and Recreation Authority from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources will expire on Dec. 31, 2017, if the park is not constructed by that date. Additionally, a $5.2 million loan to the recreation authority must be closed out or extended by June 1, 2017.
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A final feasibility report by Stahl Sheaffer Engineering was presented Monday to the Centre Region Council of Governments General Forum detailing the options COG has if it wishes to take on the cost of constructing a road itself.
Phase one of the park construction — which would focus on 75 acres of the parkland — initially focused on sports fields, stormwater management, parking areas, a set of restrooms with flush toilets and a centralized maintenance facility to serve all parks in the region, Stahl Sheaffer representative Robyn Froehlich said. Refining phase one, the lack of utilities meant removing the flush toilets and maintenance facility and adding the access road and new service utilities.
The forum was shown two options for an access road — the first option would use an existing dirt path just west of Blue Course that would meet minimal permitting requirements and would cost about $297,000, Froehlich said. The road would not be paved due to deed restrictions and would have to be widened to accommodate for vehicles and a pedestrian bike path.
The second option, she said, would travel along the originally planned path at the intersection of Whitehall and Blue Course and would have no easement issues. The challenge, she said, is this option would cost closer to $548,000 and would require PennDOT and Department of Environmental Protection permitting.
While the forum was not asked to decide on a plan Monday, the forum did unanimously vote to refer a series of questions relating to the proposed park to each municipality for discussion. The responses would then be forwarded to COG by Sept. 5 to be passed to the COG parks and capital committee.
The municipalities were encouraged to discuss the park during their regular meetings in August, talking about what additional information would be needed before proceeding with a park plan, if the municipalities are willing to modify the master plan or phasing schedule and if there are “show stoppers” that would prevent the construction of the park.
Additionally, forum members added some of their own questions, asking, because the park is proposed to be in Ferguson Township, if the township board still supported a park at that location? Members also proposed discussing if the park needed every planned feature, what would be needed for the park to be considered “complete” by DCNR standards and if it was desirable to move forward with the plan at all.