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Residents voice opposition to plans to remove trees for development in Ferguson Township

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.

With development plans moving forward in Ferguson Township, Centre County residents spoke to the board of supervisors for almost two hours Monday night in support of preserving the trees at Pine Hall forest.

In the public hearing, Supervisor Steve Miller said the township cannot dictate how companies develop and maintain privately-owned land. If the plan meets all township ordinances and zoning regulations, Miller said the board is obligated to approve the plan, but community members asked supervisors and Pine Hall Traditional Town Development representatives to maintain at least 40% of the forest before moving forward.

More than 10 residents spoke to the natural benefits of the trees, explaining that in order for the township to stay true to its own environmental initiatives and values, the existing nature must be protected.

Pine Hall forest is located on two parcels of land between Blue Course Drive and Old Gatesburg Road. The project has been in the works since 2009, said Peter Crowley, LandDesign land designer. Plans for the Pine Hall TTD were submitted in February 2018 and include commercial and residential housing areas. The commercial area includes seven retail and food services buildings, five mixed-use buildings that include a mixed-use entertainment cinema building, a grocery building with office space and a hotel.

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.

Project developers propose to remove 55 out of about 65 acres of forest — 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.

During the meeting, engineer and developer Michael Pratt of Keller Engineers said there are about 10,000 trees in Pine Hall forest. The total count is made up of native trees, invasive trees and dead trees. Of those trees, 8,100 are to be removed and 1,400 are to be replaced, Pratt said.

The meeting was standing-room only as residents voiced concerns that the planned replacement street trees will not provide the community with the same benefits.

“(Developers) are going to ... essentially remove all of the existing forest on this land,” said Howard Fescemyer, chairman of the Ferguson Township Tree Commission. “I don’t know if people realize that.”

Fescemyer said preserving 40% of the existing forest will benefit both the community and Pine Hall developers as the trees perform ecosystem services, improve mental health, assist with water management sequester carbon from carbon dioxide and filter air and water pollutants.

“The amount of this filtering depends on the filtering of the leaves,” he said. “So a mature forest like this is doing a good job at filtering these things out, and it would be nice to preserve as much of it as possible to protect our lungs.”

If the majority of trees are removed, the current natural functions and ecosystem services will be erased, Fescemyer said.

“Small, young replacement trees (that are) planted as mitigation only provide a fraction of the benefits that the mature forest performs,” Fescemyer said. “They are just so much smaller.”

Prior to the public hearing, Ferguson Township presented its community survey results which found that 90% of residents are concerned about the township’s environmental initiatives and wildlife. In order for the supervisors to honor the township’s sustainable and environmental commitments, the current Pine Hall TTD plan must be revisited, said Fescemyer.

Penn State student Mary Krupa is one of the township residents concerned about the township’s wildlife and said it breaks her heart to see developers replace the existing forest with development the township “doesn’t really need.”

“We have all of this recreational space and retail space already,” she said. “We have thousands of these places, but there’s only one forest, and there’s only one habitat for these animals. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. You can’t just replace it with little plantings and solar panels, and pat yourself on the back because that’s not going to cut it.”

Cutting down the majority of the trees and replacing them with smaller ones “is like cutting off someone’s arm and giving them a Band-Aid,” Krupa said.

“There’s more development. There’s more bulldozers. There’s less trees,” Krupa said.

Following almost 2 hours of public comment, the supervisors asked developers questions about tree removal and replacement, parking and the potential for future farmers markets and events at the site.

During discussion, Supervisor Richard Killian said the majority of residents’ comments were “microlevel” and only pertained to Pine Hall forest. Killian said he is considering what is best for the township and surrounding community.

On a “macrolevel,” Killian said the township’s boundary for development will create more space to be used by farms. He added that the supervisors are sticking to their mission by thinking about what will benefit residents in the future.

Due to the number of residents present at the meeting, Miller said the supervisors will allot time for public comment before the plan is voted on at the Aug. 19 meeting.

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