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Proposed Murrysville land deal would include Staymates acreage

| Friday, Sept. 20, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Murrysville officials are considering a plan that would provide land to connect two community parks, but part of the cost would be a piece of the historic Staymates property.

Jim Morrison, the municipality's chief administrator, presented the plan to council on Wednesday. The proposal met with criticism from several council members and with concern from a handful of residents interested in historic preservation.

Under the proposal, the municipality would acquire a 21-acre strip of land near Roundtop Road owned by John “Jay” Manno. The land would connect Duff Park and Pleasant Valley Park.

As part of the agreement, Murrysville would give about seven acres of municipal-owned land, the historic Staymates property, to Manno. The transfer would include a hilly parcel of Staymates land only — not the property's 1700s-era house or barn. The seven-acre plot is valued at about $29,800.

“By introducing the Staymates variable to it, (it) is a leverage play that I do not appreciate. I am not happy with that spin,” Councilman Jeff Kepler said, drawing applause from the audience. “I'm more than willing to look at the connector property, but Staymates is a different game.”

The Westmoreland Land Trust approached municipal staff about the 21-acre acquisition to connect the parks. The deal, according to a municipal memo, would include payment to the Manno family — $85,000 from the land trust and $40,000 from the municipality.

Council President Joan Kearns said she expects more discussion on the topic. “This needs to be thoroughly digested … to decide, do we lose (or) do we win?” she said.

Morrison was unavailable for further comment on Thursday.

In an interview on Thursday, Manno said he did not ask for the Staymates property — “It never came to my mind.”

Manno said the land trust approached him a couple years ago with an interest in buying 21 acres that he owns but does not live on. Manno asked for a straight trade, saying he would give up his 21 acres if Murrysville would give him 21 acres of land with mineral rights near his property.

The idea of including the Staymates property came up in discussions between the municipality and the land trust, said Chuck Duritsa, chairman of the Westmoreland Land Trust.

The land trust received a state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources grant two years ago, spurred by a donation of property near Roundtop Road from the van de Venne family. With that grant, the land trust wanted to buy three properties. One of those has been purchased; the others, including the Manno property, are in the works.

Connecting the parks is important to the land trust and the state conservation department, Duritsa said.

Manno said he has concerns about the proposal.

“This was all brought upon me. I did not pursue this. The ground wasn't for sale,” he said. “I'm getting thrown under the bus here.”

Resident Carl Patty questioned whether council is willing to give up the historic land for the benefit of a trail. He said George Washington camped at the Staymates site.

“It's still going to cost the municipality $40,000 to put a hiking trail in,” he said.

Councilman Joshua Lorenz questioned whether $40,000 for the project is appropriate.

“We do not have that funding in the budget,” Kearns said.

Mayor Bob Brooks said the cost is a “very cheap price.”

Simply considering the connector is an easy discussion, Kepler said, but including Staymates “changes the equation.”

Councilman David Perry agreed.

“How can you put an appraisal on history?” Kepler said.

Kearns said she has spent many years involved with the Staymates property and she hopes it can be used in the future for re-enactments or encampments.

“To look at losing a large portion of that land … would basically destroy the ability to use that in a historical context,” Kearns said.

Kearns said she is open to connecting the parks, but “not at the cost that is stipulated in this document.”

“I think that this has been sprung on us,” she said, “this last piece of the puzzle.”

Rossilynne Skena is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6646 or rskena@tribweb.com.

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