No restrictions on municipal land in Trafford
By Chris Foreman
Published: Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Although George Westinghouse is entwined with the history of Trafford, rumors that the industrialist placed long-lasting conditions on the land that housed the old municipal building and fire station appear to be nothing more than hearsay.
Since demolition of the former municipal building and fire station started last month, several borough officials said they were under the impression that a covenant exists that restricts Trafford from selling the land.
Though the deed transferring ownership of triangular-shaped “Lot C” to Trafford in 1911 prevented the sale or manufacture of liquor or “intoxicating drinks” on the property for the next 25 years — certainly, a sign of the mindset in those pre-Prohibition times — no other wording in the century-old document bars any future reuse for the land.
Word of a restrictive covenant had been passed down for years, Mayor Rey Peduzzi said. Council President Rich Laird said he had heard a rumor of a condition in which any borough resident could object to a sale of the property.
Both officials said there aren't any immediate plans for the property. At least in the interim, Peduzzi said, the open space likely will be an extension of Trafford Veterans Memorial Park, which is up a steep slope from the building site.
“Most of it is not buildable,” he said. “It's not suitable for development.”
The East Pittsburgh Improvement Co. — the Westinghouse-affiliated firm that sold the land for $1 — is considered inactive by the Pennsylvania Department of State and wouldn't appear to have standing to question if some other unidentified conditions exist, an attorney said.
The deed specifies that Trafford was to use the property at Duquesne Avenue and Fourth Street for a municipal building and the housing of the police and fire departments, but the administration and public-safety services migrated to the new municipal complex on Brinton Avenue.
The deed for that adjacent park, which Trafford bought from East Pittsburgh Improvement Co. for $1 in 1907, states that the borough shall use the land only as a public park and shall “repair and renew” the steps from Duquesne Avenue at Fifth Street up to Edgewood Avenue.
However, those steps are being removed as part of the building demolition coordinated by Westmoreland County's redevelopment authority.
Last year, borough officials blocked off the steps because they determined they were a safety hazard and decided they were too expensive to repair.
“(The deed) didn't even detail what they had to do, just that they had to maintain the property, which is a generic description,” said Les Race, a former councilman who has researched the titles on many borough-owned properties.
Six years ago, the borough received a court order in Westmoreland County Common Pleas Court awarding it formal ownership of three parcels that Trafford had maintained for decades despite them being under the name of East Pittsburgh Improvement Co.
At that time, Solicitor Craig Alexander was unable to track down anyone representing the company. State officials also listed the company that began in 1888 as inactive in 2007, said Ron Ruman, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of State.
If the company no longer exists, there might not be anyone left to challenge the use of the property, said Daniel Beisler, who has been a solicitor for Allegheny County municipalities.
Yet, Trafford isn't the only community in the area where local officials say Westinghouse — or his real-estate interests — dictated land use.
When a Wilmerding councilman supported the building of town houses at Wilmerding Park a few years ago, local officials said it couldn't be done, said Geraldine Homitz, who served 12 years as mayor.
Homitz, a board member for Wilmerding Renewed Inc., which owns Westinghouse Castle near the park, said Westinghouse wanted the land to remain as a park.
But she isn't sure where that's written.
“Everybody seems to know about it,” Homitz said. “You're not allowed to touch the park.”
With demolition in Trafford required to end by late September, Race said, he'd like to see the barren plot be available for his church, Trinity United Methodist Church, to use — temporarily, at least — as a parking lot.
“We'd like to see them backfill it with stone or asphalt,” he said.
Chris Foreman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8671, or email@example.com.
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