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Protestors Evicted from Planned Toll Brothers Development Site

by on October 04, 2017 11:09 AM

After 124 days, protestors have been evicted from the site of a planned student housing development off Whitehall Road.

Penn State owns the land and has a contract to sell it to Toll Brothers, which intends to build a 264-unit luxury student housing development. University officials and Office of Physical Plant staff, escorted by Ferguson Township Police,  arrived at about 9 a.m. on Wednesday and informed members and supporters of the Nittany Valley Water Coalition that a "No Trespassing" sign posted on July 20 was being enforced.

Protestors who were at the site did not resist the removal of canopies and remained on an adjacent property owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. David Stone, who has been involved with the protest and encampment since the beginning, said he and others stayed on the neighboring property overnight in anticipation that the university may soon arrive to evict the encampment. The canopies had been left on the Penn State property as a protest.

"We’ve been staying on the adjacent property in anticipation of something happening like this," Stone said. "This wasn’t the morning for people to get involved with trespassing or civil disobedience or anything. They kind of arrested our canopies." 

Stone said that Zack Moore, Penn State vice president for government and community relations, and Kurt Kissinger, associate vice president for finance and business, delivered the notice on Wednesday morning and that Office of Physical Plant staff loaded the canopies into trucks.

Penn State did not take protest signs and other materials, which were moved to the adjacent property. Stone said he was told the group could attempt to retrieve the canopies later.

Coalition members have had meetings with Penn State and Toll Brothers about possible alternative sites for the development and were informed on Wednesday that Penn State was in the process of setting up another meeting.

The group received follow-up notices about the No Trespassing sign and last week were told they were being given their final notice.

NVWC member Kelli Hoover, said she spoke to Charima Young, Penn State director of local government and community relations, on the phone shortly before the eviction Wednesday morning and that Young made no mention that officials and police were headed to the site.

"I feel betrayed," Hoover said, adding that a notice an hour in advance would have been sufficient.

Hoover said Young had asked that one particular member not attend the next meeting with Toll Brothers.

"She wanted one of our members who normally has been attending our meetings with Toll Brothers and them to not come because he’s too confrontational and makes them uncomfortable," Hoover said. "Well that’s not going to happen now."

Penn State spokeswoman Lisa Powers said the group has been given multiple notices and plenty of time to comply.

"The University erected 'no trespassing; signs on the Whitehall Road property on July 20 and sent protestors multiple emails, written requests, and provided verbal notification at the site as recently as Friday, Sept. 29 to voluntarily vacate this private property," Powers said. "The University also received notification from Ferguson Township of the violation of ordinances at the site. Despite the ample notification to comply with both University policy and safety regulations, members of the Nittany Valley Water Coalition were willfully ignoring the request.

"Penn State is exercising its rights under the law as property owner to remove the illegal encampment from the site."

The university said last week it is considering a seasonal lease on the property to a local farmer until legal issues with the land sale are worked out.

Ferguson Township resident and supervisor Laura Dininni, who has not been involved in the encampment but has supported the NVWC's position, said she was disappointed in the university's decision.

"I feel it’s very unfortunate the largest employer in Centre County feels it needs to enlist the police to talk to the people that work for them and support them," she said. 

The NVWC says Toll Brothers plans to build on the site could threaten Slab Cabin Run and the Harter-Thomas well fields, the source of water for the majority of homes in the State College area. Neighboring landowners formed the coalition after Ferguson Township supervisors approved the land development plan in 2015. They've gone to court to appeal the approval, arguing that it violated township ordinances. They are waiting to hear if the state Supreme Court will hear the appeal.

Though Penn State is not involved with the development beyond the sale, the university says the development plans have met all state and local water resource regulations.

Coalition members have been meeting with university officials and Toll Brothers representatives about potential alternative, Penn State-owned sites that could be developed instead.

The coalition proposed seven sites, and said after a meeting in August that Charles Elliott, Toll Brothers' managing director for apartment living, expressed the most interest in a property located along West College Avenue in front of the Penn State Blue Course. He asked for 60 days to evaluate the property. 

Hoover said Elliott has been "very helpful, very cooperative," throughout the process.

Protest signs have been moved to the adjacent property and Stone and Hoover said the group plans to continue to remain there.

"We’re sorry we’re not going to be able to greet the public with the way we’ve been doing it but we’ll still be here as best we can, 24/7 as best we can at least for awhile," Stone said. "Hopefully after this next meeting we’ll let everybody go home."

Stone added that he remains optimistic an alternative solution for the development can be worked out.

"We have people in our group that are cynical but I am a little more optimistic, because Toll Brothers has hired a consultant. They have hired an architect to look at the alternative site," he said. "So this next meeting, we need Penn State to make it work. What we really need from the admin is some sort of solid thing we can take back to our members to say we’re going to make something work."



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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