In recent weeks, conversation and actions have emerged related to Penn State’s pending sale of land along Whitehall Road in Ferguson Township. As the seller of the property, which was zoned for multi-family residential development in 2004, Penn State is engaged in a binding sales agreement with Toll Brothers construction firm. The university is not involved in the proposed housing development and there are multiple points of confusion related to the subdivision plan that has been in place since 2008.
Based on the permitted use of the property — a zoning decision made years ago by Ferguson Township — Penn State agreed to sell a 46-acre section to Toll Brothers from a 565-acre parcel.
This property was originally part of a gift and purchase from the Mellon Foundation of 1,100 acres spread across multiple municipalities.
The Ferguson Township parcel represents 8.1 percent of the 565 acres. The university has been working with local governments for more than a decade to preserve more than 160 acres of the Whitehall Road property to advance the municipalities’ goal to create a 100-acre regional park.
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In fact, the university, in collaboration with officials from the region and township, identified this parcel as part of the broad plan for local development and the creation of the park, with an understanding that the developer would build the infrastructure necessary to access the park.
As part of the current sales agreement, Toll Brothers is responsible for constructing entranceways, water and sewer lines, and installing a traffic signal.
Today, some community members question the impact the development will have on drinking water. There should be no doubt that maintaining water quality in the region is of great importance to Penn State. The university, with its own well system, and the State College Borough Water Authority each play key roles in safeguarding our region’s water.
The township and the water authority have subjected the proposed development to stringent requirements to mitigate potential risks associated with water quality and based on the approvals received, the proposed development meets all necessary state and local water quality requirements and regulations. The SCBWA conducted multiple reviews of the project and a monitoring well is being installed. The township reviewed and approved the storm water plan. The state, under the federal Clean Water Act, reviewed and approved plans controlling discharge, and detailing monitoring and reporting requirements.
It has been suggested that Penn State simply walk away from a contract that is supported by zoning laws and has the approval of the township. Some have cited possible financial penalties the university could face as the reason Penn State wouldn’t consider such a move. That’s only partially correct. The binding sales agreement is based on the permitted zoned use of the property. The university cannot extract itself from this agreement without the full cooperation of Toll Brothers. Even if the university attempted to unilaterally terminate the agreement, Toll Brothers could seek to have a court order Penn State to transfer the property after all.
Two resources where residents may go to obtain additional information about this property are at govt.psu.edu/pdf/whitehall _road_property_fact_sheet_ final.pdf, a fact sheet on the Whitehall Road parcel, and dcnr.state.pa.us/ topogeo/hazards/sinkholes /index. htm, the Pennsylvania Spatial Data Access portal that shows the karst geology (including sinkholes and surface depressions) of our region. If you explore the interactive map at this website and zoom in on our community you will discover that much of the developed land in State College has a similar density of karst features as the Whitehall Road property, with fewer protective measures.
The municipality, the state and other governing bodies overseeing the protection of environmental resources — as they do for any other property development — approved this housing plan. It is our firm belief that it is appropriate for the township and the courts evaluating this proposal to make the final determination on the use of the property, and Penn State will abide by that decision.
David Gray is the Penn State senior vice president for finance and business.