Allegheny Land Trust eyeing former Churchill Valley Club site
A nonprofit wants to preserve the land on which the defunct Churchill Valley Country Club once sat.
Representatives of Allegheny Land Trust said May 8 they are working to raise the money needed to buy the 148-acre property along Beulah Road in Penn Hills and Churchill in order to preserve it and repurpose it into a public green space for recreational uses.
“The beautiful thing about this property is it already has existing cart paths from when it was a golf course,” said Tom Dougherty, ALT’s vice president of development and external affairs.
The Churchill Valley Country Club has been owned by Zokaites Properties LP since 2013, just months after it closed in January of the same year. The Wexford-based development company is known for its high-end homes and commercial developments. Dana Zokaites, a company spokeswoman, did not return phone calls seeking comment.
The club was started in 1931 and at one time had more than 1,000 members before it closed around a decade ago. The clubhouse was demolished in 2016.
An oil and gas company in 2015 solicited nearby property owners to sign leases to allow gas drilling to take place there. Penn Hills and Churchill residents’ opposition to the prospect of oil and gas exploration led officials from both communities to place restrictions on fracking, a process for extracting gas and oil from rock using high-pressure water, sand and chemicals.
Dougherty did not say how much the transaction will cost the nonprofit.
“It’s going to be a significant sum of money,” he said, adding ALT will raise the money through state grants and donations from foundations, corporations and community members.
The organization hopes to close on the deal by March 2020.
“It all has to come together in order for it to work. But that’s kind of what we do – and we’re eager for this one,” Dougherty said.
The trust, based in Sewickley, has acquired more than 2,000 acres in Allegheny and Washington counties since 1993. Penn Hills officials recently partnered with the organization to better protect 143 acres of wooded land in the municipality that is unable to be developed.
Dougherty said the Churchill Valley Country Club shows great potential for a public green space, especially because of its proximity to 95,000 residents within a three-mile radius.
“Having a green space like that in a highly populated area becomes very unique and rare,” he said. “And there’s a lot of data that suggests that young home buyers, one of the factors they look at is proximity to green space. That’s one of those things that is high on that list when you’re looking at moving to a community.”
Besides indirect economic value, the preservation of the land could help with flooding issues, he said.
“By preserving it as a green space, it mitigates flooding from Chalfant Run, which is a tributary to Turtle Creek – which is flood-prone,” he said.
Dougherty said he hopes to meet with officials and residents from Churchill and Penn Hills in the coming days and weeks to garner support for the fundraising efforts.
“ALT never goes into projects where we don’t have community support. It’s always a collaborative process – it’s important we’re working side-by-side to make these projects the best benefits to the community,” he said.
The property lies on 108 acres in Churchill and 40 acres in Penn Hills.
Churchill Manager Donna Perry was not immediately available to comment. Penn Hills Manager Scott Andrejchak said he thinks the project would be a positive for the municipality.
“It would certainly not be a bad thing for Penn Hills if it comes to fruition the way (ALT is) envisioning it,” Andrejchak said. “But it’s a double-edged sword. It would be property coming off the tax rolls. So that’s one thing that could cause some discussion. There are folks that may feel they have a better idea for the property.”
Nevertheless, he said, the municipality will work with whoever owns the property.
“We would welcome them in Penn Hills and work with them in whatever opportunities exist,” Andrejchak said.
Emily Golling, 25, of Penn Hills is excited for the prospect of the property turning into a public green space. She said green spaces can improve property values and the cost to the municipality will be next to nothing.
“(Council) is always brainstorming on ideas on how to attract young families,” she said. “Look at Frick Park, Nine Mile Run, Schenley Park — these are places young people are going to. Penn Hills needs something like that.”
Golling, who was raised in Penn Hills and lives a quarter-mile from the site, started a Facebook page three years ago called Churchill Valley Country Club Land Preservation Effort to gauge interest in preserving the property. She and another administrator of the page reached out to Allegheny Land Trust, which eventually expressed interest in buying the property.
Dillon Carr is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Dillon at 412-871-2325, [email protected] or via Twitter .