Last night, the League of Women Voters of Centre County held their “Meet the Candidates” event for local municipal and county races. Candidates running for State College Borough as well as College, Ferguson and Harris Townships and Centre County answered questions posed by a moderator. All in all, candidates were well-informed and conveyed a sense of concern for their municipalities. I walked out with a handful of observations and feelings. I haven’t watched the C-NET broadcast, so this is based on notes and my memory.
1. The number one issue in the Centre Region is growth. Recent census data shows that our area has grown rapidly and is forecast to continue to do so. All of the prospective township board members stated that they want to keep the rural character of their townships while creating opportunities for development. In the borough, they have redevelopment issues that some wish to see dealt with by comprehensive zoning. Another advocated for consolidation of local governments. The devil will be in the details for each of us.
In my response to a question about business development and growth, I noted two things. First, Ferguson Township could coordinate with the State College borough government for economic development along the West College Avenue corridor. There is some blight here (I live along that corridor) and our governments could work on that. Laura Dininni (D-Ferguson Township) stated something similar, advocating for its development for a vibrant food culture. If memory serves, Dick Mascolo (R-Ferguson Township), who has served in Ferguson government for over a decade talked about how much economic development has happened in Ferguson since he started serving.
Second, I said I am leery of the term “growth.” I’m not honestly interested in economic growth. We want a vibrant local economy that provides people with good opportunities and meaningful and gainful employment. I prefer stability coupled to a spirit of innovation. I punctuated this by saying, ‘”Growth,’ as Edward Abbey said, ‘is the ideology of the cancer cell.’”
2. Sustainability has made its way into the local lexicon. College Townshp supervisors were asked a question about recent sustainability policies. Carla Stilson (D-College Township) talked about how pleased she was with new walkable and bikeable infrastructure. Agreed. Each of the township panels were asked about the potential Centre Region organics recycling and composting program. No one opposes it. Everyone wants it done well. Republican candidates touted its cost-saving potential. Ms. Dininni stated that it can help mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. I said we have one of the best large-scale composting programs in the country here with Penn State’s Organic Materials Processing and Education Centers and a good infrastructure set in the works. It’s really about execution.
3. Everyone loves Schlow Library. I found Janet Engeman’s (D-State College) recollection of how Schlow, located in downtown State College, started. She told a touching story of the first books that went to the Schlow house when she was a girl. There are differences in how people would like it to be funded with some more heavily touting private philanthropy and others (like me) advocating that we should increase our government’s funding of the library. Currently, as Dick Mascolo stated, Ferguson Township is the biggest municipal funder for Schlow. “If a nation wants to be ignorant and free, it wants something that never was nor will be,” said Thomas Jefferson. Government must ensure that its citizens can be knowledgeable. Libraries are among our best investments.
4. I wish more people could have or would be interested in civic participation. Like most of the candidates, I thanked the League of Women Voters and those who attended. I wish more people had come. Frankly, I wish I could go to such events and be a better citizen. Plenty of good-willed, caring and smart people simply do not have the time to squish civic life in. What kind of culture busies people so much that we can’t take part in our own governance? This is a structural problem.
5. The Toll Brothers issue remains important. The first question for our panel was about the proposed Toll Brothers development in Ferguson Township. Dick Mascolo stated that he was in favor of the project. Ms. Dininni and I stated our opposition. While I recognize and respect the State College Borough Water Authority’s weighing in on the subject and the work by engineers to test and redesign, I think it sets a bad precedent.
Mr. Mascolo said that the way to contain development (back to #1) is to enforce a growth boundary. As I alluded to in my remarks, the growth boundary was altered in 2004 by flipping the land from agricultural to high density. Mr. Mascolo voted for that change, a change that violated the growth boundary. His statement is true—we need a growth boundary outside of which municipalities will not increase density and provide power and sewer services. But not only do we need a growth boundary, we need officials who will abide by it or property owners who will push for it. I was glad to hear that Mr. Mascolo would like the current growth boundary held.
That’s one reason I’ve advocated that Penn State place all or a large portion of the ~1,000 acres of land they own on Zone 2 of the Harter and Thomas well field into an agricultural or conservation easement. It would do much to limit the hydra of growth. Basically everyone in the community and local government wants that.
So it’s growth and development. That’s what we face in Ferguson Township. As I said last night, we need plans. This is not to say there aren’t plans. There are. But we need to bring them together and they have to be done in the light of sustainability, in ways that balance economic development with community health and peace of mind and reverence for nature. All three of those are essential. That is my path forward.