Penn State OPP tears down encampment on Toll Brothers site and Ferguson Township police evicts protesters
After months of delay due to a debate over a sewer pump station, work on the Whitehall Road Regional Park and Toll Brothers residential development will move forward.
In a unanimous vote Monday, the Centre Region Council of Governments approved an easement for the University Area Joint Authority to operate the pump stations and sewer lines that will be located on Whitehall Road Regional Park property and serve both the park and the Toll Brothers site of the future luxury student housing complex The Cottages at State College. The Planned Residential Development will house about 1,000 residents in 268 units.
Toll Brothers closed on the site for $13.5 million in December, after a two-year court battle with the Nittany Valley Water Coalition (now the Nittany Valley Environmental Coalition), a group that has ardently opposed the Toll Brothers development and pump station, stalled the sales agreement with Penn State University from 2012.
Some work has already begun at the Toll Brothers site, but the project could not officially move forward without the approval of the pump station on parkland. Toll Brothers is in charge of installing the pump station and sewer lines.
Confusion, debate around pump station
The recent decision to move forward with the sewer easement was prefaced by over a month of confusion and debate over whether the pump station should even be located on parkland.
At a Sept. 24 COG General Forum meeting, the board voted down granting an easement to the UAJA to operate and maintain a pump station and sewer lines on Whitehall Road Regional Park. State College Borough was the singular no, citing a number of questions several of its members had about the sewer plan.
At the same meeting, several members of the NVEC cited worries about pollution to the Slab Cabin Run Watershed and sewer runoff. Some COG and NVEC members also expressed concerns that the pump station would mostly serve The Cottages and should therefore not occupy parkland.
NVEC members also spoke at Monday’s meeting against the project because, they said, it would cause major earth movement and threaten the water supply of the region.
John Sepp, engineer at PennTerra and project manager for the pump station project, said it would cost COG, the park and UAJA more money to run a sewer line from a pump station located on Toll Brothers property than to build one in the park that would connect to the UAJA system, a plan COG approved in 2010. Ferguson Township approved The Cottages plan, which included the pump station location on parkland, in March 2015.
Several people mentioned that UAJA had requested a shorter force main, as the current plan calls for about 800 feet of sewer lines to operate the system between the park and The Cottages. Sepp said he looked into moving the force main to shorten the distance it would have to travel, but found the other possible spots interfered with the stream crossing and the infiltration basins that manage stormwater runoff.
Whitehall Regional Park to fill ‘desperate need’
Ray Marsh, a resident of State College and a member of the Centre Soccer Association, urged COG to vote yes on the sewer easement. “Our area is in desperate need of more sports field capacity,” he said to the general forum.
In a statement Monday night, Matt Vidic, president of the Centre Soccer Board of Directors, said the park’s delay is costing taxpayers.
“The COG has approved Whitehall Regional Park (WRP), with monies already borrowed, and interest being paid. But the construction of the park has been delayed as a result of unpredictable contingencies, including unsuccessful litigation. Due process has resolved the litigation, but at the expense of the field users of the park,” he wrote. “Further delay and distraction at this point would again be at the expense of the Centre Region’s active constituents, who are paying for a park yet to be built while rising construction costs reduce the number of fields afforded by the borrowing.”
The core of the park will be rectangular playing fields for various sports, including soccer, flag football, lacrosse, rugby and field hockey. It will also include a playground, restrooms, a walking trail, garden plots and a trailhead to the Musser’s Gap path.
Too many delays for Toll Brothers?
The Ferguson Township Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 at their Oct. 15 meeting to deny a time extension requested by Toll Brothers for The Cottages. Chairman Peter Buckland, who voted against the extension, said he felt the supervisors had granted too many delays to the company — upward of four.
“I’m pretty sure that a Fortune 500, mega-billion dollar corporation can make something move really fast if they want to,” he said to the Toll Brothers attorney who attended the meeting.
Under the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code, Toll Brothers has five years to develop The Cottages site. Nov. 5 is the deadline the company must record the development plan with the Centre County Recorder of Deeds office, said Ferguson Township Manager Dave Pribulka.
Due to construction moving forward on Whitehall Road Regional Park and the Toll Brothers site, the connector trail that provides access to Musser’s Gap across Whitehall park will be relocating in the next two weeks. Part of the trail, near Whitehall Road, will move 50 feet to the west and another section of the connector trail will be re-routed through the park woodlands. Once the trail is moved, the current parking area will not be available, according to a press release from Centre Region Parks and Recreation. Parking options nearby are High Point Park, the State College Alliance Church parking lot and the Musser’s Gap Trailhead parking lot off Route 45.