My letter to Penn State’s Board of Trustees about our citizens, our land, & the Cottages

Dear Chairman Dambly and the Penn State Board of Trustees,

Thank you for your service to Penn State University, our Commonwealth’s storied land grant university. I am a proud son of Penn State faculty and staff, an alumni, and an employee of Penn State[1]. As a servant myself, I appreciate the time you take to make Penn State the best university it can be.

Today, however, I write to you as a Ferguson Township supervisor. Though I am the vice chair of the board, none of my statements should be read as a reflection of the board’s will, just as one supervisor. As you well know, over the last few years, residents of Ferguson Township and the Centre Region have become upset about Penn State’s sale of about 40 acres of land for development of student housing by the Toll Brothers. That land is located in Ferguson Township off of Whitehall Road. It is cherished for its view, for its agricultural productivity, and as its current edge of the regional growth boundary. Citizens and I hope to keep it undeveloped.

Before going further, let me say that I am not interested in attacking any of the actors involved in previous decisions. I clearly do not agree with their decisions and believe that they are not viable ways to keep going. We need to chart a new course.

In recent weeks, citizens have made a specific request that Penn State do a land swap. Penn State staff in Finance and Business, the Office of Government Relations, and a representative of the Toll Brothers met with citizens as recently as Wednesday August 2, 2017 to discuss the matter. Having spoken to the citizens involved, I can say they were heartened. Knowing the Penn State staff present, I share their optimism. I sincerely hope that Penn State can work with the Toll Brothers to relocate this project to a place that infills nearer to the university, avoids the aesthetic and conservation problems on the Whitehall Road site, and brings vitality to its neighbors. If such a location can be found—which I think is possible knowing the sites—we could all realize common goals.

If a decision to approve a land swap comes to the Board of Trustees, I ask that they approve it. Penn State has a great deal to gain for its image and for alignment with regional and international strategic goals. I needn’t remind this body of the spate of scandals that have plagued Penn State for years. The “No Tolls” campaign has been yet another scandal that creates needless rancor and distrust. Penn State could rejuvenate its local reputation immensely by doing a land swap.

Additionally, Penn State’s latest Strategic Plan mentions sustainability a number of times. In Ferguson Township, sustainability is important to us. We are a certified Sustainable Pennsylvania Gold community, have a progressive agricultural easement program, and are pursuing among the most ambitious climate action plans and sourcewater protection overlays in the Commonwealth. From my point of view, we would welcome more sustainable developments coming from university changes.

Looking at the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, I note that Goal 11 looks “to make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.” Their sub goals 2 through 4 require that cities “provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport,” that they “enhance inclusive and sustainable urbanization and capacity for participatory, integrated and sustainable human settlement planning and management,” and that they “strengthen efforts to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural and natural heritage.” The proposed Cottages development violates the spirit of these goals, goals that the United States has signed onto as of 2015. As a leading global university with remarkable design faculty, it would be great to see the spirit of Goal 11 come alive through cooperation among developers, Penn State, and our municipalities.

It is my firm belief that by listening to our citizens, a different development in a better location can do us all a great deal of good. My constituents elected me to advocate for them and I happily do it. I hope that the Penn State Board of Trustees hears them and will work to assist what could truly be a better plan for Penn State, for the Toll Brothers, for Ferguson’s and the Centre Region’s citizens, and for our future. If there is anything that I can do to be of help, please do not hesitate to ask.

All the best,

Peter Dawson Buckland

Ferguson Township Supervisor and Vice Chair of the Board


[1] I work at Penn State’s Sustainability Institute. This letter should in no way indicate any position held by the Sustainability Institute nor its staff.

“In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught.” Baba Dioum


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