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555 acres of Pittsburgh's Hays Woods could become 'permanent green space'

Mary Ann Thomas
| Thursday, Nov. 9, 2017, 12:27 p.m.
Aerial photograph of the 660-acre parcel of woodland that was sold to the URA by Chuck Betters' Pittsburgh Development Group II for $5 million in honor of his late daughter, Roxsan Betters Albanese, who passed away from cancer in 2005.
The Penn State Greater Pittsburgh Metro Center
Aerial photograph of the 660-acre parcel of woodland that was sold to the URA by Chuck Betters' Pittsburgh Development Group II for $5 million in honor of his late daughter, Roxsan Betters Albanese, who passed away from cancer in 2005.
The Hays bald eagles greet each other.
Courtesy Annette Devinney
The Hays bald eagles greet each other.

Pittsburgh's Urban Redevelopment Authority is expected to vote Thursday afternoon to convey 555 acres of wooded land in Hays to the city for public parkland, while holding an adjoining 89 wooded acres in Hays and neighboring Baldwin Borough for potential development.

A development group led by Beaver County businessman Chuck Betters sold the land known as Hays Woods to the URA for $5 million in July 2016. Betters bought the land in 2003 and proposed a horse racetrack, casino and other development there once he strip mined the site for remaining coal. But he failed to win a thoroughbred license, and the property presented too many challenges for large-scale development.

The rolling site has six streams, a waterfall, deep valleys and a range of wildlife, including a nest used by the first pair of bald eagles to nest in the city in more than 150 years. The formerly endangered birds are in their sixth year of nesting in Hays Woods.

When the 2016 deal was announced, city officials said they intended to designate at least 90 percent of the land as public parkland in a move that would make it one of the largest city parks. Frick Park is 644 acres. Officials said then that they would investigate developing a small portion of the property for housing.

An item on the URA's board agenda for Thursday says the authority would convey the 555 acres to the city for $1 for future dedication as “permanent green space.” The move would require the property sold by Betters to be subdivided, with URA retaining ownership of 89 acres for future development, according to the agenda.

If part of the land is developed, a number of approvals and public meetings would be required before any work happens, according to Tim McNulty, a spokesman for Mayor Bill Peduto.

McNulty said nothing would be done to “disrupt the bald eagles' presence there,” adding the city would work with the Pennsylvania Game Commission to ensure “the eagles are not affected in any way.”

The developable portion of land would not include or be close to the bald eagle nest, according to Robert Rubinstein, the URA's executive director. He said in an email the potential housing would be on a portion of the Hays Woods property that is “farthest away from the eagle's nest that is not steep sloped.”

URA meets at 2 p.m. at Downtown's John P. Robin Civic Building at 200 Ross St.

Mary Ann Thomas is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-226-4691, mthomas@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MaThomas_Trib.

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