Our community is clamoring over Penn State’s conditional sale of land in Ferguson Township.
Toll Bros., a large developer, is on track to construct a high-density planned residential development called The Cottages in a place that many of us object to.
Community uproar over sprawl and a lack of care for our water supplies, implications and accusations of nefarious dealings, defense by public officials and a lot of worry about risk have filled local media. There might be a way out of this.
As writing on these pages has made clear, tensions are high. Katherine Watt has filed an ethics complaint at Penn State for possible wrongdoing. Several of her claims, though, have been rebuked by Ferguson Township Supervisor Steve Miller.
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Penn State ethics officer Regis Becker will presumably carry out his duties and uncover any wrongdoing. We all have to wait.
In the meantime, we have the opportunity to align some priorities among regional stakeholders. I propose three courses of action — none of which is original to me — that would benefit our community, secure water and open space and show that Penn State has an unequivocal commitment to the integrated health and happiness of our communities, our region’s economic vibrancy and high environmental quality.
First, the State College Borough Water Authority and other regional water authorities should be more involved.
As SCBWA Source Water Protection Chairman Jason Grottini said at the July 7 joint session with Ferguson Township, continued development pressures can exert harmful pressure on our source water. With better involvement, we can address these issues more effectively and more beautifully.
Supervisor Drew Clemson agreed. So, too, do activists.
On July 22, I asked Penn State administrators to cancel the conditional sale of land to Toll Bros. It is legally and contractually impossible in my judgment. With all of the shouting of late, we could not have known that unless someone asked. So let’s get to the next step.
I hope Penn State will put the hundreds of acres of agricultural land it owns beyond the proposed Toll Bros. site into an easement.
This move would build upon the momentum of the Musser Gap Greenway, provide the SCBWA and our residents with peace of mind for source water. It would avoid the tipping points; stop the sprawling dominoes of development that could breach the growth boundary further; secure biodiversity; put more weight behind recent talk on sustainability from Provost Nick Jones; and provide educational opportunities.
The details would be very important. But they are workable, and I have reason to be optimistic on this front.
Finally, if we are calling on Penn State and local governments to be transparent and engaged in more sustainable practices, then we citizens should, too. One of the reasons this controversy erupted is a lack of civic engagement when it mattered most in 2004. Residents are not to blame for it, but civic engagement makes a difference.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said, “You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that is it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”
Let’s use this crisis to develop better relationships, secure our water and land for good use and create a more engaged citizenry.