Ferguson Township development could lead to extreme tree loss, environmentalists say

What you should know about the Pine Hall Traditional Town Development

A new mixed-use housing and retail development is under consideration in Ferguson Township, but there are concerns about its environmental impact. Supervisors are looking at a proposal for The Pine Hall Traditional Town Development.
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A new mixed-use housing and retail development is under consideration in Ferguson Township, but there are concerns about its environmental impact. Supervisors are looking at a proposal for The Pine Hall Traditional Town Development.

The proposed Pine Hall Traditional Town Development in Ferguson Township is advertised as “an innovative mixed-use development ... creating a pedestrian-friendly, walkable community,” but environmental activists say it will come at the cost of 85% of a 65-acre forest smack in the middle of the land slated for development.

Pine Hall forest, located on two parcels of land between Blue Course Drive and Old Gatesburg Road, has been owned by the Pine Hall Development Corporation since 2007, according to county records. Those two tracts of land were previously owned by John Imbt and Carol Imbt Cooper, who owned several parcels of land in Ferguson Township and around Centre County. Ferguson Township changed the tracts’ zoning from industrial to Traditional Town Development (TTD) in 2006, according to meeting minutes.

Plans for the Pine Hall TTD were submitted in February 2018 and include a commercial area and housing areas. The commercial area includes seven retail and food services buildings, five mixed-use buildings that include food services, residential housing and retail, a mixed-use entertainment cinema building, a grocery building with office space, a hotel and a pharmacy.

The housing areas include 470 multi-family apartment units, 205 for-sale townhomes, 18 single-family detached homes, 54 for-rent single-family detached homes, 16 for-sale duplexes, 164 for-rent duplexes, 92 single family attached homes and 101 workforce housing units dispersed between multi-family apartment buildings and townhomes. Housing also includes an Eco Village that will utilize native plants and green building practices, according to developers.

The developers include planning and architecture company LandDesign in Alexandria, Virginia, architecture and design company 505 Design in Charlotte, North Carolina, and housing developer Residential Housing Development, LLC in Houston, Texas.

The plan for Pine Hall TTD currently under consideration is an update of a previous plan approved over a decade ago by Ferguson Township supervisors, said developer Derek Anderson with Residential Housing, and aims to correct some of the older plan’s flaws and updates the stormwater management plans to comply with the township’s new ordinance.

“The new plan was influenced for the better by a series of collaborative, community workshops with the Township’s elected officials, staff and stakeholders over the past several years,” Anderson wrote in an email.

Overall, he added, the plan embraces a design philosophy “where it is hoped that a broader representation of the Centre region residents will enjoy a unique opportunity to own or rent a home and work, shop, eat, be social, celebrate, exercise and play ... all within walking distance or an easy, safe bike ride from their front door.”

Wesley Glebe, a Ferguson Township resident and member of the Nittany Valley Environmental Coalition, said he and other members of the NVEC think the proposed Pine Hall TTD would be destructive to the environment.

“The fact is ... that 85% of all the trees of 65 acres (in Pine Hall forest) are slated to be cut down for profit. They’re gonna be harvested,” he said.

Pine Hall developers propose to remove 55 out of nearly 65 acres — about 90 percent of existing trees. Under the Ferguson Township Tree Ordinance, they are required to retain or replace 40 percent of the trees removed, according to documents from Ferguson Township Glebe shared with the CDT.

There are 9,783 trees in Pine Hall forest that have a caliper of 5 inches or more, according to a 2016 report from Stephen A. Chilcote Land & Timber Consulting in Tyrone. There may be more trees in the entire forest, but the township’s ordinance criteria applies to existing trees with a caliper of 5 inches or more, wrote engineer Michael Pratt of Keller Engineers in an email to Ferguson Township planner Lindsay Schoch.

Removing 90% of existing trees with a caliper of 5 inches or more leaves 1,401 trees, according to Pratt. Since 289 trees have already been replanted in “previous Pine Hall TTD projects,” he wrote, 2,223 trees must be replanted by the developers.

Chilcote, in his report, told Anderson with Residential Housing Development that the value of the 4,200 trees classified as sawtimber is close to $200,000.

“The sawtimber is of good quality and has good marketability,” he wrote.

In looking at the township’s tree ordinance, he wrote, he did not see any “problem rules.”

“I do not feel there are any restriction(s) to performing a harvest,” he wrote. “As is most often the case, farm and silviculture activities are exempt from stormwater management permitting ... I suggest a harvest that would cut hard on the areas you plan to clear in the future.”

“Trees are such a big part of air quality, water abatement,” said Glebe, who believes the township’s poor wording of its tree ordinance allowed this to transpire. Under the tree ordinance, he said, developers are allowed to replace each large tree that was cut down with something as small as a 2-inch sapling.

“I don’t think that’s good for the environment,” he said. “... Those trees do what they do and it’s invisible. You don’t see the oxygen that they produce, you don’t see the carbon that they sequester.”

Residential Housing wants to work with the community to design and dedicate the forest and convert it to public land, Anderson said.

Additionally, he said, the proposed master plan is at the “lower limit” of the zoning law’s minimum density requirement and meets the all the criteria for tree preservation and replacement written in the township’s tree ordinance. The preserved woodlot from Pine Hall forest, he said, will benefit from the clearing of invasive species and “ongoing best management practices.”

In keeping with the community’s goals for the master plan, he said, the development’s commercial area will be “complemented” by open spaces like a town plaza, town green and a central park. There are also “pocket parks” planned throughout the community “to facilitate activities ... and smaller gatherings that promote a greater sense of community,” he said.

Ferguson Township Manager David Pribulka said the current version of the Pine Hall TTD has been talked about for almost three years, with the developer seeking input from the public, the board of supervisors and township staff.

The township’s tree ordinance prevents land in the township from “unnecessary destruction,” he said. “... Our ordinances are all designed to consider a number of impacts, environmental being one of them, but also traffic (and) stormwater.”

Ferguson Township supervisors are holding a public hearing on June 17 to discuss the Pine Hall TTD and offer the public a chance to ask questions and weigh in on the general master plan.

They won’t vote on the general master plan the same day, said Pribulka, but they may decide to vote soon after. Once the master plan is approved, the developer must submit specific implementation plans for things like stormwater management and erosion and sedimentation controls, he said.

The next board of supervisors meeting is 7 p.m. Monday in the Ferguson Township Municipal Building.

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