Tonight, the Ferguson Board of Supervisors is slated to vote on the Toll Brothers’ proposed student housing development. As always, following the Call to Order, the supervisors are there to hear citizen’s input. People will surely speak there minds tonight for some time. I will be. I’m not quite sure what I will say, but I certainly have a lot of thoughts on the matter. Here are a few:
If you have played a part in this issue, please come out. In a way, it doesn’t matter if the Board votes yes or no. What matters most is that citizens witness what’s happening so that as a body and mind we can use our collective wisdom to change the way our government operates, so that it operates by a combination of the good will of the people and for the integrity of our local environment. That way, we can avoid these tragedies.
A tragedy is a drama that involves a great person destined to experience downfall because of a character flaw or conflict with some overpowering force. Tonight, will we watch a tragedy in which the heroes are metaphorically killed by their encounter with greed? I hope not.
But if you are paying attention and tuned into how anyone feels about this, anxiety, anger, and the beginning of grief have been everywhere. People sense that they are about to lose something.
Toll Brothers will know that they will have lost their social license here before they ever got it. They will also make a mountain of money on the backs of students going into massive amounts of debt.
Penn State—where I work but whose decision-makers I do not speak for—will once again be seen as the uncaring big brother, more motivated by money than by community goodwill. I understand only too well that this is not their only role in the community and that they also do a great deal of good. But this is going to be a black eye that student service and faculty engagement may not be able to cover. It makes it all the more important for the university to take some bold action to protect and conserve land in Ferguson.
Penn Terra, the engineering firm has done a ton of work to make this project “right.” (Thank you for being so responsive.) But they are now locked into an imbroglio that puts their engineering excellence and expertise in the hands of an anti-community venture. That must be very difficult.
If you are a supervisor, you might be about to vote in a way that will alienate your constituents. This is a situation no honest supervisor wants to find themselves in. At least one of them, Dick Mascolo, is unrepentant and believes he is doing the right thing. He lost reelection.
Citizens are worried that the hydra of sprawl is about to get a new head if the road and sewer service goes in, and that the new head will start chewing through the growth boundary only to grow more heads that WILL damage our well fields and the idyllic heart of eastern Ferguson Township. Most importantly, citizens tonight are worried that they have little recourse. Community trust is being sidelined by the creeping power of rules that reward greed instead of caution. However, corporate trust is being kept between our government and a Fortune 1000 company and the land acquisition wing of one of the largest universities in the world. Trust is the casualty.
I wish that I could say there was a simple solution to this. There is not. I am left with three thoughts. First, I want to honor everyone here for playing a part in this to the best of your ability. Second, I want to say that the preordained failure of this project can teach us something if we listen. Third and finally, it is my hope that this board tonight and the board-elect on which I serve, will do everything it can to preserve the community and ecological integrity of this area, most importantly the growth boundary. No single person can make this right. I cannot make this right. To do that, we have to work together for quite a while. So we need you to pay attention and help.
Tragic though this situation might be, we must learn from it and do everything we can to rebuild trust. Will you do that?