Residents of the Centre Region and beyond are speaking out against a planned Ferguson Township development they claim threatens the water supply for State College.
The outpouring of concern follows the approval of the Cottages at State College — a 268-unit housing project slated to take in more than 1,000 occupants. The project would encompass about 32 acres at the intersection of West Whitehall Road and Blue Course Drive, with plans to extend Blue Course beyond Whitehall to accommodate the development.
The issue, voiced for several months now, is the proximity of the development to the Harter-Thomas wellfields, which provide drinking water to State College Borough Water Authority. Residents claim the potential for stormwater runoff could contaminate the wellfields.
“The entire development sits in Zone 2 of the Harter-Thomas wells,” Ferguson Township resident Laura Dininni said. “This provides two-thirds of 5 million gallons of water to 75,000 residents a day.
“One of the reasons why we have such quality of water that we don’t need to replace our machinery or filtration as much as other communities is because of this immense buffer zone,” she said.
The three parcels that will house the project are owned by Penn State, according to township Planning and Zoning Director Maria Tranguch. Two parcels are zoned R-4 and were brought into the regional growth boundary several years ago. The third parcel is zoned RA — agricultural use.
Therein lies a problem, Tranguch said.
The 5.5 acres in the subdivided RA parcel will hold the stormwater facilities for the development, according to the PRD plan. This parcel lies outside the regional growth boundary, Tranguch said in a February memo to the township Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors, saying the placement of the facilities does not comply with the land-use goals of the 2013 comprehensive plan.
“It’s essentially as if we have allowed them to have an extra five and a half acres inside the growth boundary,” she said Wednesday. “It really sets a pretty poor precedent for future development right along the growth boundary because we’re saying they can externalize their stormwater facilities.”
The plan calls for a pair of basins to capture stormwater runoff from the development.
According to a letter by David Yoxtheimer, principal hydrogeologist with Aqualith Technologies, to Tranguch in October 2014, the stormwater facilities themselves have the potential to impact groundwater.
“Given the relatively thin existing soil cover ... and shallow depth to bedrock … the proposed stormwater facilities could compromise groundwater quality by allowing any surface contaminants to quickly reach karst bedrock with only minimal natural filtration through site soils,” the letter said.
State College Borough Water Authority Executive Director John Lichman said he is satisfied with the review the authority made of the plan. Consultants pointed out the areas of concern, and Ferguson Township has been accommodating to their comments and concerns.
Although the authority is a ground water-source authority, he said, the borough does have a surface source in the Shingletown Gap Reservoir.
“Should there be a problem or issue arise,” he said, “we have the ability to redirect water from other wellfields, to shut a field down, to fix whatever we have to fix, then come back on and the customer never knows it.”
State College residents have also been making their case known to Borough Council. On Monday, Terry Melton urged the board and local agencies to pressure the developers to possibly skip the project.
The borough has little control over the project, Borough Manager Tom Fountaine said. There is the potential for a sewage facilities planning module that would require council’s approval, but the application hasn’t been submitted. Any other concerns should be directed to Ferguson Township or the SCBWA.
Attempts to contact Ferguson Township Board of Supervisors President Dick Mascolo or Vice President Drew Clemson went unanswered.
A change.org petition started by Ferguson Township resident Katherine Watt, titled “Deny Toll Brothers development plan,” has collected more than 1,000 signatures.
Dininni said she is pushing for more dialogue and wants to make sure every resident understands the consequences of the development.
Further, she said, she would like to see the parcels rezoned as agricultural or a zoning that would offer natural resource protection.
According to an email by Toll Brothers asset manager Richard Keyser,the company is seeking to begin construction by summer.
Before work can begin, the Board of Supervisors must approve the plan one more time, Tranguch said. That approval will likely be pushed back from an early June vote due to the number of comments made by staff and consultants on the plan that PennTerra, the engineering firm working with Toll Brothers, is not close to answering.
A Toll Brothers’ spokeswoman said they could not comment on the issue because they do not yet own the land.
Dininni said the situation reminded her of the recent issue over an odor problem between the University Area Joint Authority and nearby College Township residents.
“I used to live out there,” she said. “The area wasn’t full of houses at the time.”
She said the issue arose when township leaders rezoned agricultural land to residential, eliminating the buffer between the UAJA and the residents.
“The water authority has reasons for having its own buffer zone,” she said. “We want to provide opportunity for that dialogue so we can look at the property, preserve it and move forward from there.”