Reforming Penn State – Update

On December 22, Penn State and Toll Brothers closed the land sale for the Whitehall Road parcels that were the subject of the Nittany Valley Water Coalition lawsuit filed in December 2015.

The water coalition members anticipated the closing after we were evicted from the occupation of the site in early October.

Nonetheless, we continued to advocate for the land swap, and attempted to incentivize Penn State’s participation in the land swap by notifying the university of our intent to incorporate as a 501(c)4 called Nittany Valley Environmental Coalition, and to subsequently file a constitutional challenge in January if the University failed to pursue the land swap alternative in good faith.

We don’t plan to challenge the specific Whitehall Road transaction; we cannot raise a $13.5 million security bond.

Rather, we intend to challenge Penn State’s procedures for land acquisition, sale and development, under the fiduciary trustee standards imposed on public, government entities by the PA Constitution Environmental Rights Amendment in 1971, and strengthened by the Supreme Court’s ruling in PEDF v. Commonwealth in June 2017.

Our claim will be either

1) that Penn State is a public entity for the purposes of real estate transactions, and must therefore develop and promulgate transparent public procedures for its disposition of its Commonwealth landholdings, enabling citizens to intervene early enough in the process to protect critical natural resources similar to the Whitehall Road parcels in the future, or,

2) that Penn State is a private entity and must therefore forfeit its significant property tax exemptions and pay taxes on its enormously valuable county landholdings at a similar rate to other private property owners in Centre County, to relieve other taxpayers of the significant financial burden of subsidizing Penn State’s rampant enrollment growth and related housing and commercial development, including police, fire and emergency medical services; public services such as road and park maintenance; operation and expansion of water, sewer and stormwater management systems;  refuse and recycling collection; environmental protection and damage mitigation; and the many other costs of maintaining a community that rise with population increases and inflationary pressures.

Following is a link to the Dec. 19, 2017 NVEC press release laying out some preliminary legal research on our proposed lawsuit.

Since this was released, we have acquired more information, including PILOT (“payment in lieu of taxes”) agreements in effect between Penn State and Dauphin County, and between Penn State, Centre County and four participating local municipalities. Our research is ongoing.

We have been meeting with local attorneys during this preliminary stage and will continue with those meetings.

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