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Coalition Says Meeting with Toll Brothers 'Productive'

by on August 02, 2017 3:17 PM

Members of the Nittany Valley Water Coalition met Wednesday with representatives from Toll Brothers and Penn State about the future of a planned student housing development, a sit-down the coalition called "productive."

"We were able to present the alternative sites that we were interested in having them talk about," said David Hughes, a member of the coalition and associate professor of entomology and biology at Penn State. "These are seven sites around the university that belong to the university and [Toll Brothers' representative Charles Elliott] was very interested in a number of those sites."

Hughes declined to identify the specific sites but said they are closer to the Penn State campus and more desirable for student living than the planned location near the intersection of Whitehall Road and Blue Course Drive in Ferguson Township.

The group met with Elliott, Toll Brothers managing director for apartment living, as well as officials from Penn State's finance and business, physical plant and government and community relations offices. Hughes said the discussion was largely between the coalition and Elliott, with the group already having met with university officials last week. 

He said it was a "very nice, open discussion with no acrimony."

Elliott could not be reached directly for comment, but a Toll Brothers spokesperson said they are listening to the group's ideas.

"Penn State and Toll Brothers Apartment Living are actively listening to the coalition's feedback and ideas," a statement from the developer said. "We are committed to the evaluation of all concerns."

In 2012, Penn State entered an agreement to sell 44 acres of land in Ferguson Township to Toll Brothers for $13.5 million, pending land-use approval. The developer plans to build a 264-unit luxury student housing development called The Cottages at State College on the site.

For years since the project was first announced, some residents have been vocal in their opposition, citing the potential effects of construction and stormwater runoff on the nearby Slab Cabin Run and Harter-Thomas well fields, the source of drinking water for the majority of homes served by the State College Borough Water Authority.

After the project was approved by the Ferguson Township Board of Supervisors in 2015, a group of 15 neighboring landowners formed the Nittany Valley Water Coalition and sued to have the approval of the plan overturned, arguing it violated township ordinances and the state's Municipal Planning Code. 

A Centre County judge agreed with the coalition last summer, but in May a Commonwealth Court panel vacated that decision and effectively quashed the residents' appeal. They have petitioned the state Supreme Court to hear the case.

Since the May decision, the coalition has urged Penn State to select another university-owned property to present as an alternative for sale to Toll Brothers.

"We appreciated the opportunity to meet and have a good candid discussion," a Penn State spokesperson said after Wednesday's meeting. "No immediate decisions have been made. We understand Toll Brothers needs to evaluate the conversation that occurred, and to the extent that it involves the University we would need further time to discuss and communicate."

Hughes said the group intends to follow up with Elliott and Penn State officials in future meetings, and that no timetable or next steps had yet been decided upon.

Toll Brothers will discuss more fully with Penn State the options presented by the coalition, Hughes said, but he believes both the developer and the university are open to the possibility of finding an alternative site.

In the meeting last week, Penn State "had no major objections" to the sites suggested by the coalition, he added.

"It seems to be that Toll Brothers are really interested in finding an alternative solution here," Hughes said. "This is reflective of what Penn State is interested in doing and of course we, the Nittany Valley Water Coalition and the community are very much interested in an alternative proposal here."

The coalition members believe that in addition to addressing the water concerns, the sites they've suggested would appeal more to current and future students because they are closer to campus and amenities. Hughes said several of the properties suggested are located in Ferguson Township, and that they could be used to drive desired development in certain areas.

"Some of the locations are in Ferguson Township and they want to see a new vision for rundown properties," Hughes said. "They really want to see this as a way to revive certain areas of our community. Better coffee shops, for example, street landscapes, walking access to the university, night life… all of those things that Ferguson Township is really interested in, the community is really interested in, and the students should be interested in."

Some coalition members and other residents have been camped out on the proposed site near Whitehall Road since June 2. On July 20 Penn State, which owns the land until the planned development can proceed, posted "No Trespassing" signs, saying the encampment violated university policies and that signs posted near the roadway were in violation of township ordinances.

Coalition member Kelli Hoover, also a Penn State professor of entomology, said earlier this week that neither Penn State nor the township had approached the coalition about the encampment since the signs were posted.

Hughes said on Wednesday the issue still had not been brought up again.



Geoff Rushton is managing editor for StateCollege.com. Contact him at geoff.rushton@statecollege.com or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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