Group Fighting Penn State Land Sale Threatens To Sue

Dec 19, 2017

The Penn State property where Toll Brothers had planned to build a luxury student housing complex on Blue Course and Whitehall in Ferguson township. Concerned citizens believe building the complex could threaten the town's drinking water.
Credit Erin Cassidy Hendrick / WPSU

The group that has been protesting Penn State’s sale of land along Whitehall Road to a developer said that it will file a lawsuit if that transaction takes place.

The Nittany Valley Water Coalition, which is being incorporated as the nonprofit Nittany Valley Environmental Coalition, said Tuesday that the suit will ask the court to find that Penn State is a “Commonwealth trustee.” As a state agency, the coalition says, Penn State would be required to protect public natural resources under the state’s Environmental Rights Amendment.

The coalition argues that development of the Whitehall land would jeopardize the State College area’s drinking water supply. Wellfields are near the proposed Toll Brothers development, which would be upscale student housing.

If the suit occurs and the courts find that Penn State is not a state agency, the coalition says it will ask the courts to end Penn State’s tax exemptions and other public entity benefits.

“We’ll be striking at the root of Penn State’s hybrid legal status that has allowed it to become a tax-exempt, publicly-subsidized, privately-governed, for-profit corporation,” said Kelli Hoover, president of the NVEC, in a news release.

Penn State is a “state-related” university. It is not subject to the same state Right to Know rules as public institutions.

The coalition has been pushing Penn State to agree to a land swap with the developer — selling property on West College Avenue near Blue Course Drive rather than the Whitehall Road land.

In a statement earlier in December, Penn State said that it is still in a binding sales agreement for the Whitehall Road property with Toll Brothers.

“Although Toll Brothers and the Nittany Valley Water Coalition discussed possible alternate sites for Toll’s planned development in August, only an unsigned letter of intent was sent by” Toll Brothers to Penn State expressing interest in the West College Avenue property in early November.

“Since that time, no additional information has been provided regarding the development plans and related impacts and there have been no formal discussions or negotiations with Toll Brothers on the West College parcel,” the statement from Penn State continues. “In the meantime, there is still an agreement of sale in place for the Whitehall Road site, and the ball is in the developer's court regarding the closing on that parcel.”