Houses may replace Penn State farmland

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SALEM, Ohio – With the agricultural sciences college’s blessing, Penn State University sold a 155-acre tract of farmland to a company hoping to build 400 residential units.

Penn State acquired the land, now known as Circleville Farm, 30 years ago when it was the heart of a rural area, according to Dan Sieminski, assistant vice president of finance and business.

But now it’s the heart of a residential community and no longer the viable farmland it once was, he said.

‘Not really a farm.’ In the 1970s, the agricultural sciences college farmed the land in Ferguson Township, about 2 miles from the center of campus, and used it for ag research.

But soon rooftops were popping up around the agricultural site, Sieminski said.

Now Circleville Farm is surrounded by residential development and a four-lane highway lines the property, he said.

“It’s called Circleville Farm, but it’s not really a farm,” Sieminski said.

Although crops are grown on the property, he said no livestock or equipment are housed there and no research is conducted at the location.

With increasing development and busy roads, it’s difficult to get large equipment to the land, he said.

And the noise, dust and smell from working in those fields is a conflict with neighbors, Sieminski said.

Double, triple. The agricultural sciences college won’t be losing land, however.

With the $2.9 million sale, Penn State can buy 2 to 3 acres of open land for every acre of Circleville property, according to Gary Schultz, senior vice president for finance and business.

Such land would likely be neighboring the more than 2,000 acres the university already owns near University Park Airport.

Sieminski said other property in a more rural area will give the College of Agricultural Sciences more pasture land and more facilities than at Circleville Farm.

In-between steps. The sale, approved by the university’s board of trustees Nov. 14, went to The Lezzer/Haubert Partnership.

Before the concrete is poured, however, the property will have to be rezoned from rural agricultural to single-family residential with a planned residential overlay.

The proposal addresses environmental concerns, incorporating open space and retaining nearly every tree on the site.

The plan also calls for a $3.5 million community aquatics center, which can be constructed at the site or another location in the township.

All angles? Talk of the sale brewed for nearly a year before the decision last week.

In response to opponents’ concerns about selling the property, the university extended the process by six months, said university spokesman Tysen Kendig.

The time allowed both nontraditional development proposals and traditional proposals to be considered. For example, he said faculty submitted proposals to use the land for educational purposes.

Kendig said these proposals were not practical, especially considering more acreage could be obtained from the sale.

“The university is not land poor,” Sieminski said, noting that if other departments need property for research, Penn State has plenty of other land.

A 480-acre arboretum, closer to the university than Circleville Farm, also serves that need, he said.

(Reporter Kristy Hebert welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 23, or by e-mail at khebert@farmanddairy.com.)

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