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Pittsburgh's URA transfers 555 acres of woodland to city for public park

Bob Bauder
| Thursday, Nov. 9, 2017, 5:42 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.
Matt Peters, 46, of Hazelwood, attended Thursday's Urban Redevelopment Authority with someone dressed as a bear to express opposition to developing a section of wooded park land in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Hays.
Bob Bauder | Tribune-Review
Matt Peters, 46, of Hazelwood, attended Thursday's Urban Redevelopment Authority with someone dressed as a bear to express opposition to developing a section of wooded park land in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Hays.

Pittsburgh's Urban Redevelopment Authority on Thursday transferred 555 acres of woodland in Hays to the city for creation of a public park, but held back 89 acres for potential development despite public opposition.

Residents — including one dressed in a bear's costume — argued that the entire 644-acre property should be maintained as a park.

“I think I heard a lot today that makes me more comfortable with this proposal,” said Matt Peters, 46, of Hazelwood. “I feel that housing has no place there. This is taking unique and very valuable forest and turning it into urban areas.”

The URA retained ownership of 89 acres to potentially recoup the $5 million that it paid for the entire property, but members said they have no current plans for development.

“I don't know if we'll ever see anything on the 89 acres, let alone moving forward with anything hastily or in any quick fashion,” said Jim Ferlo, a URA board member and former state senator from Highland Park. “It's a long process to do anything. Look at the Civic Arena. It's been 15 years, and we haven't turned a stone.”

URA Chairman Kevin Acklin, who doubles as Mayor Bill Peduto's Chief of Staff, said the authority could ultimately decide the 89 acres should be part of the park. He said the authority would seek public feedback on any decision concerning the property.

“We want people to start enjoying this park,” he said. “We're going to hold back 89 acres. This may never be developed. This is an area that we just want to preserve for a future conversation.”

Ferlo lauded Peduto's administration and the URA for purchasing the land in 2016 from a development group led by Beaver County businessman Chuck Betters. Betters bought the land in 2003 with plans for a horse racetrack, casino and other development. He also planned to strip mine the site for coal.

He abandoned those plans after failing to win a race track license.

The property, much of it hillside, includes streams, a waterfall and the first bald eagles to nest in the city in more than a century.

The 89-acre area that could be developed is on the opposite end of the property from the eagles' nest and any potential development would not disturb the formerly endangered birds, according to URA Executive Director Robert Rubinstein.

Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-765-2312, bbauder@tribweb.com or @bobbauder.

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