State College

Ferguson Township calls for time limits on requests for Centre Region public sewer expansions

Ferguson Township supervisors have one demand as Centre Region officials continue to debate changes to the process that guides development and public sewer extensions.

The General Forum — the monthly meeting of all six municipalities — on Monday referred the draft agreement, with proposed changes, to the municipalities for individual discussions. It will come back to the group later this fall.

“Ferguson insists, if you expand it — it’s going to be project specific — give it a time limit,” said Ferguson Chairman George Pytel. “Because we’ve been burned the last couple of times, with somebody coming in saying, ‘This is what we want’ and, once they got the expansion, they found it was easier to make more money putting something else in.

“That’s one that Ferguson Township’s very strong on.”

Officials suggested that changes were needed to the agreement, first signed in 2006, after a contentious process ensued with a sewer extension request from Calvary Baptist Church last year. The request was denied after Ferguson Township opposed it, but the church appealed to county court and eventually settled with the Council of Governments to proceed with the expansion.

One of the first changes to the process came in June when officials agreed to change from unanimous to supermajority — 5-1 — for the vote required to allow a sewer extension when a request triggers the process to assess a project’s regional impact.

The region has assessed and approved three other requests, for Centre County Paws, a personal care home on the Benjamin Heights site in Harris Township, and the Whitehall Road Regional Park.

However, the personal care home, for which the extension was requested in 2011, has never materialized, speaking to Pytel’s concern.

Harris Manager Amy Farkas said she understands the property is for sale, but that the property owner hasn’t discussed any plans with the township.

“That’s part of the issue I think Ferguson has,” said Centre Regional Planning Agency Director Jim May. “These requests turn into speculative projects rather than specific projects.”

In the draft of the new process agreement, it states that a municipality can choose to enter an agreement with a property owner, ensuring development occurs as indicated. Pytel wants that to be mandatory, with up to five years as the limit.

Halfmoon Township Chairman Mark Stevenson said that another positive change is that the draft agreement notes that advanced and alternative wastewater treatment systems are not allowed outside the region’s growth boundary.

A developer previously requested such a system in Halfmoon, and the township denied it based on questions of who would be liable if the system failed. On-lot septic systems are the accepted sewer facilities outside the boundary, and the University Area Joint Authority is the entity that provides public sewer service to the region.

All of Halfmoon Township sits outside the boundary. State College sits entirely within it, and the other townships have land both inside and outside.

Another discussion concluded that the request process should include criteria that officials can consider when evaluating an application for public sewer.

In the draft agreement, those include whether there are locations inside the growth boundary that could accommodate the development, whether the UAJA has the capacity to support the proposed expansion, whether the developer has explored on-lot septic systems, and whether changes in population or land use projections warrant a growth boundary and sewer service-area expansion.

The six municipalities will discuss all draft changes and submit comments back to the CRPA in mid-October, and May said he anticipates that officials will vote on a final draft of the document in November.