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New director has big plans for Allegheny Land Trust

| Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012, 8:55 p.m.
Sewickley Herald
The new Allegheny Land Trust executive director, Christopher Beichner, sits at his desk inside the ALT office in Sewickley Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012. Kristina Serafini | Sewickley Herald

Christopher Beichner of Leetsdale knew all about Allegheny Land Trust in Sewickley before he started getting paid to know all about it.

The new ALT executive director, Beichner, 34, said he worked with the land conservation organization when he was serving as executive director for Mt. Washington Community Development Corp., or MWCDC, on a project at Emerald View Park regional park.

“We worked with ALT to acquire additional land for the park. So, I'm familiar with them,” he said. “I already knew the whole staff.”

In fact, MWCDC gave ALT its “Partner of the Year” award last year, and Beichner said he still plans to have ALT continue to be a great partner with MWCDC.

After four years at MWCDC, Beichner said he thought it was a good idea to move on because he had finished what he wanted to accomplish for the organization, helping to rebuild it after continuous staff turnovers and a decrease in funders.

He was selected for the new ALT post from a large pool of candidates after a six-month search.

Since graduating from Clarion University, where he received a bachelor's degree in business management, he has worked on community development. The father of three with another on the way said he thought it was time to expand his background and expertise and try something new.

For eight years before working with MWCDC, which focuses on business attraction and community development, Beichner also served in various capacities, including community development and planning director at Northwest Pennsylvania Regional Planning and Development Commission in Oil City.

Beichner, who received the National Association of Development Organizations Innovation Award twice, said he can't say conservation and environmental issues always have been his passion, but he did enjoy helping with the greenway plan for Emerald View Park.

“Working with the community and entrepreneurs and helping people succeed is my passion. I want to help ALT succeed in its mission to acquire and conserve the land, which is so important especially in this area where there is so much development,” he said.

At the moment, Beichner, who has been on the job since September, is working on an assessment of the organization, “capacity wise” to map out areas in which the organization possibly could improve and is looking at the strategic plan to target future goals and objections.

Just recently, ALT was asked to help with a conservation easement on property in Fox Chapel, and Beichner said he wants to make it known to more landowners that ALT also can help them to ensure their property will not be developed and also help them earn tax deductions.

ALT hopes to acquire 180 acres formerly owned for 80 years by Pittsburgh Cut Flower in Pittsburgh, which sold and delivered roses all across the East Coast.

The property has been vacant for 20 years, and 30 acres is considered blighted. However, Beichner said 150 acres contains lush meadows and a pond, which ALT wants to conserve. The organization also would like to remove the blight so that economic development can occur in that area. With the help of volunteers, the trust is working to raise $140,000 in matching funds that would be used with grants to total the $1.4 million needed to buy the Richland property.

“We have several different projects like that coming up. There are several opportunities we are looking at,” he said.

He said he just had a phone call from an attorney of a landowner in Sewickley Heights who wants to donated 10 acres to the organization, and ALT is about to close on 80 acres in Marshall Township called Venango Trails.

Presently, a thousand additional acres are under contract or in negotiations, which Beichner said is a huge effort, especially because 1,500 acres total have been acquired and conserved since ALT's formation 20 years ago.

According to Roy Kraynyk, the first ALT executive director who served in the position for 11 years, said one of the reasons for the increased acquisition is a recent change in the organization.

He said with his title change to land protection director, and with Beichner taking on the duties of executive director, ALT now can accelerate projects and take on more at one time.

Kraynyk said he approached the board earlier this year with the idea of his stepping down from the executive director's position to dedicate more time to ALT's core mission and his passion of land conservation. In his new position, he said he is able to develop his time to identifying conservation targets that meet ALT's Greenprint criteria, negotiating the deals and raising the money to make them happen.

Beichner said he works on both external relationships with partners, elected officials, funders and government agencies as well as financial management, human resources, marketing and public relations. He also was involved in this year's Bounty in the BarN fundraising event.

“My job is to keep the organization going in a positive direction and meet its goals,” he said.

Joanne Barron is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1406 and jbarron@tribweb.com.

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