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Allegheny Land Trust to fundraise for Sewickley Hills land acquisition

| Friday, June 14, 2013, 11:39 a.m.
Kristina Serafini | Sewickley Herald
Allegheny Land Trust Executive Director Chris Beichner talks to the media, Friday, June 14, 2013, about the location of 48 acres of land in Sewickley Hills the organization plans to acquire for public use.
Kristina Serafini | Sewickley Herald
State Rep. Mark Mustio (R-Allegheny) helps to unveil a fundraising sign during a press conference at Sewickley Hills Borough municipal building, Friday, June 14, 2013, held by the Allegheny Land Trust to announce plans to acquire 48 acres of land in Sewickley Hills for public use.
Kristina Serafini | Sewickley Herald
State Sen. Matt Smith (D-Allegheny/Washington) speaks during a press conference at Sewickley Hills Borough municipal building, Friday, June 14, 2013, held by the Allegheny Land Trust to announce plans to acquire 48 acres of land in Sewickley Hills for public use.
Kristina Serafini | Sewickley Herald
Sewickley Hills Borough Council President Cindy Phillips speaks during a press conference at Sewickley Hills Borough building, Friday, June 14, 2013, held by the Allegheny Land Trust to announce plans to acquire 48 acres of land in Sewickley Hills for public use.

More than 1,200 acres of parkland could be connected later this year in Sewickley Heights and Sewickley Hills if a land trust organization can raise funds needed to acquire 48 acres.

The Sewickley-based Allegheny Land Trust seeks about $660,000 — $500,000 of which executive director Chris Beichner said he hopes will come from the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources in the form of grant money — to acquire 48 acres between Magee Road and Interstate 79 in Sewickley Hills.

Already, $40,000 has been pledged by local individuals, which leaves roughly $120,000 in donations needed by Sept. 30 to purchase the land, Beichner said.

He said the land has been recognized as a “priority property” for the land trust with mature woodlands, walking trails, streams and diverse wildlife.

Beichner said with many steep hillsides being developed, concerns with storm water runoff and other environmental issues can plague developments.

“I appreciate good, responsible development,” he said. “But I also understand and appreciate balancing that with green space.”

The land trust already owns about 110 acres in the Sewickley Valley, Beichner said.

At a press conference Friday, state Rep. Mark Mustio (R-Allegheny) said he was “excited to support” the land trust's intent to purchase the property and that “we've seen some examples of what we don't want to see happen” with other developments along hillsides in the region.

The land was purchased in 1950 by the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, according to Allegheny County property-assessment records. It is valued at $247,000.

If the land trust is successful, the property acquisition would mean Sewickley Hills Park would connect with Sewickley Heights Borough Park, along with the land trust's Audubon Greenway.

If it were to be developed, Sewickley Hills zoning ordinances would permit up to 24 residential units on the land.

Sewickley Hills council President Cindy Phillips praised the project and said residents “overwhelmingly” supported efforts to retain the borough's “rural character.”

State Sen. Matt Smith (D-Allegheny/Washington) said the acquisition is important for the region.

“The fact that we can have such an incredible natural asset and a nature preserve literally 15 to 20 minutes from downtown Pittsburgh is really one of the more impressive aspects about this project,” he said.

The nonprofit Allegheny Land Trust protects “land of natural value” in and around Allegheny County, its website says.

Founded in 1993, the land trust has protected 1,600 acres of land in 23 municipalities, according to its website.

Bobby Cherry is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-324-1408 or rcherry@tribweb.com.

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