Ferguson Township Supervisors’ Race Hinges On Proposed Student Housing Complex

Oct 30, 2015

Both candidates for Ward 1 of the Ferguson Township Board of Supervisors say they believe it’s important to balance economic development and environmental preservation. But they disagree on what to do about a new development planned in the township.

A student housing complex named “The Cottages” is being planned on Whitehall Road and Blue Course Drive. The Toll Brothers developers want to buy the land from Penn State. But they need the go-ahead from the Ferguson Township Board of Supervisors to start building.

Laura Dininni is one of many Ferguson Township residents whose concerned “The Cottages” could threaten State College’s water supply by contaminating a nearby water recharge area.

“The citizens of Ferguson Township really don’t want this to go through,” she said.

So Dininni organized a write-in campaign so she could stop it, though she says she’s not just a one issue candidate. She’s now on the ballot for Tuesday, running against incumbent chairman of the board Dick Mascolo.

Proponents of the development say there is a downside to denying this housing complex and down-grading the land to exclude residential construction. It would allow Penn State to sue the township for the loss in property value. In May, Steve Miller, a current member of the board, said Penn State could lose around $13 million in property value if that happened.

The proposed building site for "The Cottages" on Whitehall Road and Blue Course Drive.
Credit Erin Cassidy Hendrick / WPSU

But Dininni doesn’t think that’s a real possibility. She said, “So, call me an eternal optimist, I personally feel that if Ferguson township were to actually uphold the actual wishes of their constituents and vote ‘no’ on the plan, that Penn State would not, as a good neighbor, bring a lawsuit against Ferguson township.”

But her competition, chairman Mascolo disagrees. “If a developer meets all the requirements of the zoning, you have to let them develop. You don’t really have a choice. And if Ferguson Township says no to a development that meets all the requirements of the zoning, we will definitely get a lawsuit,” he said.

The board is scheduled to vote on “The Cottages” in their next meeting. That means that even if she’s elected, it would be too late for Dininni to weigh in. But she thinks there is sufficient evidence to delay the vote.

Mascolo says there are no plans to do so.  He said, “I see no reason to delay. It’s been delayed for 2 years now and the Water Authority so far has said that it’s minimum risk and that they’ve done more testing with this project than any other in the history of the water company. And they feel it’s a safe project.”

He also says this land is only a tiny part of the water recharge area people are concerned about. The area runs farther than most people think, well beyond where the proposed housing complex would be built. 

"In fact, the whole valley is part of the contribution area and it runs almost to the Huntington County line. So it’s not realistic to think no developer will ever be done on that property. It’s going to be developed eventually and everybody’s gonna do their best to keep minimum risk for the water supply,” Mascolo said.  He also says the township will benefit from an increased tax base.

Voters in Ward 1 of Ferguson township will be able to vote for incumbent Dick Mascolo or the challenger Laura Dininni on Tuesday. Ward 2 candidate Peter Buckland, who is running uncontested, is also opposed to the building of “The Cottages.” (To find out which ward you vote in, click here.)

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