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Wilkinsburg park's fate could be decided on Monday

| Monday, March 11, 2013, 12:12 a.m.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Green Street Park in Wilkinsburg Sunday, March 10, 2013. The Wilkinsburg School District wants to sell the property to a developer at the objection of residents who like the green space.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Green Street Park in Wilkinsburg Sunday, March 10, 2013. The Wilkinsburg School District wants to sell the property to a developer at the objection of residents who like the green space.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Green Street Park in Wilkinsburg Sunday, March 10, 2013. The Wilkinsburg School District wants to sell the property to a developer at the objection of residents who like the green space.

Some Wilkinsburg residents who oppose the school district's plan to sell a small park might know on Monday whether their efforts paid off.

The Wilkinsburg School District, however, claims the residents have no standing to block the sale of Green Street Mini-Park near Regent Square.

“The purpose of the court review is to ensure there was no fraud or collusion. That's all the court cares about, and their objections don't go to that issue,” district Solicitor Matthew Hoffman said.

The opposition group — 27 residents, the Wilkinsburg-based Nine Mile Run Watershed Association and that organization's executive director — argue the park is a valuable piece of green space, said their attorney, Michael Wojcik.

School districts can sell only property they deem to be unused and unnecessary. Even then, a court must approve the sale.

“This property is used, and it's very necessary,” Wojcik said.

At the corner of Mifflin Avenue and Green Street, the park has a swing set, a basketball court and green space where children play, said Linda Kauffman, 72, who lives on Mifflin Avenue and is a member of the group.

“(The park) is not in optimal condition. … But it's certainly not a badly neglected area,” said Nine Mile Run Executive Director Brenda Smith, who hopes the sides can reach an agreement for maintaining the park that would take the financial burden off the district. Part of the organization's mission is to preserve green space.

The district's workers have been mowing the grass,and picking up trash and dog waste from the park, said Philip Martell, the district's assistant director of business affairs.

“It's become a burden,” especially after staffing cuts, he said. The cash-strapped district could use the $71,000 the sale would bring, he said.

Group members, however, said they have been maintaining the park. School board members did not return calls for comment.

The dispute over the sale might not have arisen if the district had not discovered that it had owned the park since 1905. Until last year, the community thought the borough owned the park, Wojcik said.

The opposition claimed the district did not follow proper legal procedure in advertising the sale and voting for it, according to documents filed in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court.

Some members of the group appeared at a Feb. 19 court hearing, which Judge Judith Friedman continued to Monday.

By the time the district submitted an amended court filing last week, it had cured, or fixed, most of the issues the group raised in its objections, Wojcik said.

The school district signed a sales agreement with Akator Construction of Westmoreland County contingent upon the court's approval. Akator plans to build six single-family, detached homes at full market rate, said Todd Winnor, chief operating officer.

Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5662 or tparrish@tribweb.com.

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