Toll Brothers Box Plan & College Township in a Bad Zone

There are two things before us in the Centre Region regarding water. Way more than that but just two for me today. I think you should pay attention to them too. They regard the proposed Toll Brothers development in Ferguson Township and proposed rezoning in College Township.

On the Toll Brothers deal in Ferguson: You can download the submitted PRD plan at the Ferguson “Development” website. On Friday, June 5, Toll Brothers submitted a revised Final PRD Plan for the Boxes…err Cottages to Ferguson. It was distributed to township agencies for review and set for comment deadline for July 6. We learned this at the last board meeting.

The July 6 meeting of supervisors has been cancelled. There is a Ferguson Township/SCBWA work session on July 7 at 6 p.m. at the Ferguson Township municipal building. Presumably the Final PRD Plan is expected to go to the Ferguson Township Planning Commission (for a vote) July 13 or not. Their next regular meeting is on July 20 at 7 pm.

While the SCBWA has said that there is not an imminent or substantive threat to the Harter and Thomas wells, some folks are not convinced that this project is safe. See Steady State College for strong words to that effect. Having talked to people working directly on the issue, I’m fairly convinced that the engineers on the project have done more than they are usually asked to do, that they have been able to pass over the SCBWA’s bar that there is not a substantive or imminent threat to the well field, and that thus far they can have no objections. There may some things that come to light to undo their risk assessment as low but that seems unlikely. I trust the people with whom I spoke a lot. That doesn’t mean I have no concerns.

Personally, I’m skeptical of these risk assessments in general. When the engineers in question are being paid by the Toll Brothers, research indicates that the funding source will skew the findings of experts. In a recent article by Oreskes et al, the authors point out that very smart people may believe that they are immune to this funding effect. But in fact, they just use their intelligence to better fool themselves. Swap in the word “engineer” for scientist:

One reason scientists may succumb to unconscious bias is that we think ourselves less susceptible to these effects than we really are. A study of medical residents found that sixty-one percent argued that gifts from pharmaceutical companies would not affect their behavior, but thought that only 16 percent of their colleagues would remain similarly unaffected.(3) These results may be compared to the well-documented “third person effect,” in which people think that others are more influenced by advertising than they are. Scientists may be particularly susceptible to third person effects precisely because we think that we are not.

There’s nothing nefarious about the engineers. But the system of pay will screw with the field. It’s just what happens. I’d prefer an independent third-party analyst paid for by the township. That would put minds at ease. I strongly suggest the board take it up.

There’s also an issue with the retention and impoundment ponds for the site. They are outside of the growth boundary. And I don’t think that there was an agreement at the Centre Region Council of Governments that allowed that to happen. This confuses me a lot. I don’t see how it’s not a violation of the growth boundary. Thoughts?

Over in College Township, there’s a proposed rezoning. Read about it at the CDT here. The proposed 100 acres of ag land would be rezoned “into three different classifications — general commercial C-1, which offers a range of retail, service and office uses; two-family residential R-2, creating moderately dense residential development; and planned research business district, which provides for research, engineering and office uses as well as commercial uses in a business park setting, similar to Innovation Park at Penn State.” The problem is that the new property would encroach on the Rogers well by the intersection of Shiloh and Trout Roads. The College Township Water Authority reports “the well is protected under source water protection zones, with the most restrictive protections in the immediate 400 feet around the well.” It’s also susceptible to sinkholes and contamination. Sound familiar?

But what’s different this time is that aware people might be able to stop the problem before the township water authority has to go through needless action to get to the point where we all feel we have to accept an unnecessary risk. “College Township Water Authority member Don Hartzell said it unanimously recommends that the zoning remain unchanged, saying if the well were to become contaminated, it could cost up to $4 million to correct it.” So if you live in College Township, please go to the supervisors and urge them to stop considering this proposal. Please be kind and forceful.

“I have no idea what impact that would be on everybody’s water bill,” he said.

I think I do. It would go up.

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5 thoughts on “Toll Brothers Box Plan & College Township in a Bad Zone

  1. “I don’t see how it’s not a violation of the growth boundary. Thoughts?”

    http://www.crcog.net/vertical/sites/%7B6AD7E2DC-ECE4-41CD-B8E1-BAC6A6336348%7D/uploads/Fully_Executed_RGB_and_SSA_Implementation_Agreement_-_Dec_2013.pdf

    The ponds do not increase density outside the growth boundary, which is what the intermunicipal agreement addresses:
    “The Regional Growth Boundary is the boundary within which a higher density of development
    exists to efficiently and economically support urban services including public sewer, public water,
    public transportation, fire, police, and schools as noted in the Centre Region Comprehensive Plan.”

    The implementation agreement addresses how the municipalities approach developments that increase density outside the growth boundary. There is nothing in the agreement about anything occurring outside the growth boundary that does not increase the sewage EDUs outside the boundary. Since a basin has zero EDUs, the agreement does not apply at all, so there is no violation.

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  2. I don’t like this answer. I think it’s a way to skirt the issue at hand which is sprawl. It may not be violating the letter but it violates the spirit which might be more disappointing.

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  3. I see it differently and would be happy to discuss the point if you would like to get together. The growth boundary is intended to limit sprawl, among other goals. However, all of the buildings are entirely within the existing boundary in this case and development could, and would, occur there with or without the basins being in their proposed locations. I suspect that we will continue to disagree on this point but we can continue to seek common ground that I know exists.
    I look forward to interesting discussions over the next few years.

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  4. We do see it differently. The retention & impoundment ponds are necessary structures for the PRD, part of its footprint, but not one of the named services in the above list by a strict reading of “public water.” The nature of water as a common source makes this term quite vague. I and others can read and have (and admittedly assumed) retention pond into that. unless the glossary says that public water means publicly delivered water via a via drinking water infrastructure. The ponds efficiently and economically (hopefully that doesn’t allow cheaply & flimsily…) provide a service that is auxiliary to the publicly delivered services as well as providing storm water service there.

    I will likely keep seeing things this way. So will many others. Some of us will live with these disappointments. I’ve lived with them before. Still, I think it would do some version of less bad or good for Toll to redesign this project with the basins as LID & brought inside the growth boundary.

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  5. The lawyer for the Toll Brothers, Lucas, used to be the solicitor for Ferguson Township. I don’t now if that was BEFOR or AFTER he sued Patton Township. Lucas is WELL AWARE that this is litigation waiting to happen but he is betting we don’t have the money to prove it in court.

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