I am astounded that the CDT ran the column “Connecting the dots between Penn State, Ferguson Township development” by Katherine Watt on Monday. The number of errors, misrepresentations and outright false statements made in the column is amazing, given that a number of people were mentioned by name in a misguided attempt to spin a conspiracy without bothering to gather facts.
As a Ferguson Township supervisor, and one of the people mentioned in the column, I would like to correct some of the more blatant misstatements. I will not address everything in the column because I have no information about some of the “facts” that were presented. While some people seem to find knowledge about the topic irrelevant to the decision as to whether to write about it, I do not.
This property was rezoned in 2004 from agricultural to high-density residential use. The rezoning request came from the landowner — in this case Penn State — which is a normal part of the process. I was on the board at that time and can attest that there was no pressure from any party on the supervisors to vote one way or the other. Three of the five supervisors felt that the rezoning was appropriate and voted to change the zoning. Each of them had his own reason for his position, just as I had my reasons to vote against it, but none of those reasons had anything to do with the alleged interference by Penn State, which is the heart of the conspiracy tale that we read in the CDT.
A key link in the column is stated as “the RK Mellon Foundation — a subsidiary of BNY Mellon.” It takes very little research online to determine that BNY Mellon is a banking corporation formed by the merger of the Bank of New York and Mellon Financial Corp. in 2007, while the RK Mellon foundation is a philanthropic organization founded in 1947 by Richard K. Mellon and not at all related to the bank. Since this “link” is nonexistent, the implication that a conservation grant to ClearWater Conservancy is somehow tied to the Cottages development is completely untrue.
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Another essential element of this conspiracy theory relies on the observation that a number of people connected to Penn State serve on local elected and appointed boards and a local nonprofit board. While this observation can appear pertinent to someone predisposed to find nefarious undertakings, a more thoughtful approach might lead to the realization that an organization providing half of the employment in the region and which encourages its employees to become involved in the community might be the employer of many people dedicated to making the community better.
In her column, Watt points out that neither ClearWater Conservancy nor the Centre Region Planning Commission has made moves to stop the Cottages project. What she does not point out is that neither organization has any authority to stop any project. ClearWater is a nonprofit land trust and the CRPC is an advisory body that reviews development plans and provides nonbinding comments. She further points out that “high-density development is not a COG-condoned activity on land outside the RGB/SSA, under the Centre Region Comprehensive Plan.” While true, this comment is entirely irrelevant. Land use decisions are made by municipal boards and do not require that COG condone them. More to the point, the high-density development is located entirely within the regional growth boundary and sewer service area.
In addition, the column states that stormwater detention is not a legal use of RA land under the Ferguson zoning code. A quick call to the township could have confirmed that stormwater detention is often necessary whenever and wherever permeable land is developed and that there are, in fact, at least six other stormwater detention basins in RA-zoned land in the township. I do agree with the statement that I have made no move to stop the project as illegal. The primary reason for that is the fact that the project is not illegal.
There are a number of people who have raised concerns about this development project. As a supervisor, I share their concerns and I have worked to make sure that the development follows the best possible practices to protect the environment. The State College Borough Water Authority has reviewed the plan and actively worked with the township and the developer to provide a much greater degree of protection than normally occurs with a development of this size.
Many residents are sincerely concerned about the potential damage to our water supply. In part, this is because they have been told that it is a likely occurrence. I think much of the concern is a result of misrepresentation by people who know that is not true. They have heard the comments by the SCBWA but continue to put forward the same arguments as if they had not. While I suspect there are other issues and agendas behind this misrepresentation, I would refrain from naming conspirators until I had some facts to support my suspicions.