Updates on the Water, Farmland and Accountable Local Democracy Fight

Posted over at the Nittany Valley Water Coalition website:

July 10 – Updates

July 19 – Luxury Student Housing Should Be an Oxymoron – Link to a StateCollege.com editorial by Russell Frank

July 19 – Updates 

July 20 – Eviction Notice

July 20 – Penn State is escalating.

July 20 – Context for the Eviction

July 20 – Further context – a timeline of Penn State executives’ and trustees’ actions

  • August 25, 1999 – Corporate Penn State buys land from RK Mellon Foundation and Mark and Marcia Bookman (50-50 joint owners), each selling their stake, for $1 and $99,307 respectively – 8.25.99 Deed 18.25.99 Deed 2
  • November 7, 2003, Penn State Vice President for Finance and Business Gary Schultz submits application to Ferguson Township seeking Township upzoning of the land from RA to R4, and incorporation into Regional Growth Boundary. 11.7.03 PSU-Sweetland Application to Ferguson Township for Upzoning RA to R4 with Deeds Attached
  • November 2003 to October 2004 – Numerous area municipalities and planning agencies recommend Ferguson Township deny Penn State’s upzoning application, to protect the water, farmland and regional growth boundary. Representative sample: 3.29.04 Centre Region Planning Agency to Ferguson Township Re Whitehall Road Zoning Change
  • June 14, 2004– Penn State Assistant Vice President for Finance and Business Dan Simienski submits $1,000 application check to Ferguson Township for rezoning review process. 6.14.04 PSU Rezoning Check Cover Letter D. Sieminski to M. Kunkle
  • September 7, 2004 – Ferguson Township supervisors approve the upzoning by 3-2. Steve Miller votes “No.” 9.7.04 Ferguson Township Board of Supervisors Minutes
  • February 25, 2008 – Penn State files “declaration of access easements” with Centre County Recorder of Deeds, citing subdivision plan. 2.25.08 PSU Easements Six Lot FT Subdivision
  • February 27, 2008 – Penn State’s Gary Schultz, as owner, files subdivision plat plan, approved by Ferguson Township Planning Commission on or about February 7, 2008 and by Ferguson Township Board of Supervisors on or about February 14, 2008 (signed by Board Chair Richard Mascolo, husband of Centre Region Parks Authority Board Chair Sue Mascolo) at Penn State’s request, clearly showing road access from Blue Course Drive to Shingletown Road across the watershed, and linking development of adjacent public park to development of student housing complex. 2007 PSU-Sweetland Engineering Six Lot Subdivision
  • December 29, 2011 – Penn State commissions production of glossy, full page marketing booklet to solicit bids at a meeting in Hershey, from developers, to construct student housing on land rezoned – at Penn State’s request – in 2004 and subdivided – at Penn State’s request – in 2008. 2011 Whitehall Road Investment Prospectus
  • April 24, 2012 – Penn State Senior Vice President for Finance and Business David Gray signs sales contract with Richard Keyser, Toll Brothers Vice President for Commercial Acquisitions and Development. 4.24.12 PSU-Toll Purchase and Sales Agreement
  • May 4, 2012 – Penn State Board of Trustees, led by Karen Peetz, President of Bank of New York Mellon, approves sales contract for $13.5 million. 5.4.12 PSU BOT Minutes (See page 10).
  • September 20, 2013 – Penn State Board of Trustees adds 5.5 acres to the planned sale, located outside the regional growth boundary and still zoned Rural Agricultural, to Toll Brothers, for the purpose of stormwater management basin construction. The minutes note that Karen Peetz is not present for vote, but in any case, the Board finds she has no conflict of interest under University bylaws, despite BNY Mellon’s Boston Company Asset Management being the seventh-largest investor in Toll Brothers. 9.20.13 PSU BOT Minutes (See page 11-12); 8.14.12 Toll Bros Peetz Reuters
  • July 7, 2017 – Penn State Senior Vice President for Finance and Business David Gray, in a CDT editorial, states: “the University is not involved in the proposed housing development.”

July 21 – Penn State’s pre-meeting letter (sent ahead of a scheduled meeting between PSU reps and NVWC reps, to be held July 25, and filled with breathtaking hypocrisy that apparently the author, Kurt Kissinger, either cannot see or does not believe will further reduce citizen’s increasingly low opinion of Penn State’s leadership.)

Bailiwick News – Year-to-Date Recap

The print edition of Bailiwick News launched on September 2, 2016.

Here’s what’s been published so far:

Slab Cabin Run water and farmland protection series

2017 Centre County District Attorney Race series

Centre Region Public Budgets series

To be continued in 2017

  • 9.23.16 Bailiwick News – Part 1. Tensions about cutting services, raising taxes, or both, likely to rise during 2017 budget cycle.
  • 12.9.16 Bailiwick News – Part 2. Municipal finance can-kickers running out of road.

Regional Planning and Municipal Zoning series

To be continued in 2017

  • 11.4.16 Bailiwick News – Part 1 of series on regional planning and municipal zoning as they relate to water, sewer, land use, housing development and population growth. Part 1 of intermittent series.

Standalone Reports

  • 9.2.16 Bailiwick News – Standalone report. Governing Board of Friends & Farmers Co-op facing key decisions at Annual Meeting. [Meeting held Saturday, November 5, at 4 p.m. at the State College Friends School.]
  • 10.7.16 Bailiwick News – Standalone report. Local governments need to strengthen and enforce water protections.
  • 1.13.17 Bailiwick News – Miscellaneous updates: zoning, finance, regional parks loan, regional identity, construction codes, property insurance, etc.

Continued strategic coverage priorities for 2017

  • Public Governance – Open public meetings, access to public documents, procedures for decision-making, including the Centre Region Council of Governments voluntary coordination organization and agencies.
  • Public Finance – State College and CRCOG budgets; existing and hoped-for revenue streams including tax hikes; cost containment options.
  • Water & Sewer Systems – State College Borough Water Authority and University Area Joint Sewer Authority, and other water and sewer systems: governance, budgets, rates, tapping fees, infrastructure needs, ecosystem impacts; special projects (i.e. Nixon-Kocher filtration plant construction; beneficial reuse project.)
  • Land Use Planning and Zoning; Housing & Commercial Development – Land use decision-making, at the planning end, and at the implementation end through zoning code adoption and enforcement. Conversion of farmland to student housing; effects on ecosystems and municipal revenue streams. Public subsidies for development. State College zoning code overhaul. Rental property oversight, code compliance, rental costs for renters, housing costs for homeowners.
  • Centre County Courts – Corruption, fraud, incompetence, 2017 District Attorney race.
  • Penn State Governance & Public Safety – Non-local PSU governance as a local public safety issue. Corruption, fraud, non-transparency, administrative bloat. Enrollment, disciplinary policies, and externalized costs of student supervision and public safety. Impacts of unpunished crime on law-abiding students and year-round residents. Police departments, emergency management, fire departments, student alcoholism, personal and property crimes. Penn State’s new push to host large stadium events beyond just the fall football weekends.

Watt Letter to the Editor Re: PSU Community Abuse

Sent to Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Harrisburg newspapers yesterday:

For Centre County residents, the death of Timothy Piazza is only the most recent example of a pattern of corporate Penn State’s community abuse.

In 2011, we learned that Penn State administrators, enabled by the Board of Trustees, had covered up the serial rape of young boys by Jerry Sandusky.

In 2013, State College residents fought a fierce battle against Penn State and Columbia Gas, over Penn State’s plan to install a 12” diameter, high-pressure natural gas transmission line through a residential neighborhood, solely to serve the West Campus Steam Plant. Penn State trustees only backed down after citizen outrage and a lawsuit combined with air quality compliance deadlines, which caused the trustees to move the route of the proposed pipeline onto campus, where it now threatens the lives of thousands of Penn State students, faculty and staff.

In 2015, Centre Region residents were forced to mobilize for our own public safety against another Penn State threat, when we learned that Penn State had engaged in a sweetheart land deal with Toll Brothers developers to build hundreds of luxury student housing units right on top of the groundwater recharge area for our public drinking water supplies. We have no large lakes, reservoirs or rivers in Centre County. If our groundwater is contaminated, we’re screwed. And Toll Brothers has a horrible record of non-compliance with Clean Water Act regulations.

So citizens took Toll Brothers and the enabling Ferguson Township municipal board to court. Centre County Court of Common Pleas Judge Jonathan Grine ruled in our favor in July 2016, finding that the developers, in collusion with the supervisors, attempted an unlawful “end run” around local zoning ordinances. The Commonwealth Court reversed Grine on a procedural technicality. Our case is now on the way to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and we’re directly petitioning the trustees to break the sales agreement.

This spring, we learned that corporate Penn State’s continued promotion of an institutional culture of alcohol abuse, and negligence in supervising sanctioned and unsanctioned fraternities and sororities, again led to the death of an undergraduate student. It’s not the first time, and it won’t be the last.

It’s leadership behavior driven by the same private profit-driven greed that drove the Sandusky cover-up, the Columbia Gas pipeline plan, and the Toll Brothers water threat, hidden behind the slipping disguise of a public land grant university.

Penn State’s administrators, enabled by a complacent, out-of-touch Board of Trustees and a weak state legislature that can’t even be bothered to bring the state-related universities under the provisions of the Right to Know Law, continue to demonstrate a pattern of callous disregard for the externalized human and social costs of their internal decisions.

The recent and not-so-recent pious handwringing by Penn State’s purported leaders is unlikely to lead to any constructive change. It can’t. There are too many incentives for business as usual, and none for genuine reform.

Katherine Watt, State College PA, PSU Class of 1996.