NVEC challenges Ferguson Township to preserve nature in its Pine Hall TTD

The Pennsylvania Constitution, Article 1, Section 27 states that “The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment.“ NVEC exists to protect these rights.

What Ferguson Township is doing right

Ferguson’s own excellent civil rights charter requires protection of township natural features, protects and encourages citizen rights to speak on nature’s behalf, and doubles Ferguson’s obligation to protect citizens’ rights to nature.

NVEC agrees with Ferguson statements in its Oct. 10 op-ed in the CDT: the township has improved protection of its natural features, riparian buffers and wellheads. Ferguson has held developers to improved storm water buffering mechanisms and provided both citizens and developers with strict tree planting guidelines and proper tree choice.

Where Ferguson falls short

Ferguson’s wellheads have not consistently been protected. In 2017 Ferguson approved the Toll Brothers 1092-bed student housing development upstream from wellheads providing water for 120,000 persons, despite the project’s violation of the COG growth boundary.

The Pine Hall TTD is another case. The NVEC Land-Use Appeal points out instances where the new zoning approved for the Pine Hall TTD plan negates the stated purpose and design-intent of a TTD, which is to offer developers housing density in exchange for preservation of the natural features of the site. Ferguson residents opposed TTD zoning changes favoring the Pine Hall developer when they were proposed and approved.

The Pine Hall TTD was rezoned in 2017, then redesigned. Its Master Plan was approved on Aug. 19. NVEC appealed this approval within the permitted 30-day period.

In the case of the Pine Hall TTD, Ferguson made concessions far more beneficial to the developers than to its own citizens. Essentially no natural features will be retained.

The consequences of loosing a forest

Pine Hall’s major natural feature is 65 acres of trees, the last large forested area within the COG growth boundary. Some trees are huge, perhaps more than 100 years old, growing in a thriving forest sheltering and aiding the growth of younger trees, and harboring diverse creatures such as the owls pointed out by one of the 150+ upset citizens attending the Ferguson Pine Hall hearings. The forest is home to wood thrushes that appear on the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s endangered species list.

Pine Hall forest’s limestone outcroppings and sinkholes have long cooled and filtered storm water moving toward Big Hollow. But the rezoned Pine Hall development has a whopping 85% impervious surface. Heated pavement runoff in the Centre Region is warming Spring Creek. Cool-water trout are at risk from rising recharge temperatures. Also, nature’s biodiversity is at risk. Diverse and maturing lowland forests and meadows provide food and shelter multiple species necessary for pollination.

A change of vision and focus is required

Township supervisors have tremendous power in Pennsylvania. Ferguson can achieve what 90% of its residents want: protected open space, trees and nature. Ferguson should negotiate intentionally with every potential developer to preserve and improve natural amenities. Population density is desirable within our growth boundary, but it can be concentrated on the site so as to allow room for real nature to coexist with development.

Reducing the 30 acres dedicated to commercial space and parking lots along Blue Course Drive could make room for saving more trees and open space.

Land planning for sustainable use has been the measure of smart development for more than 20 years — a tool available to all townships to protect biodiversity and biological resilience in urbanizing settings in the Centre Region. Township planners can cultivate relationships with creative design professionals to help them reimagine life within our growth boundaries as a gratifying interface with local nature. Both human health and the health of nature will benefit. It is the least we can do for our children.

Dorothy Blair is the president of the Nittany Valley Environmental Coalition.