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Southpointe may soon hand over covenant to landowners' group

| Sunday, March 3, 2002

A decade ago, Southpointe was 589 acres of undeveloped farm land. Today, there is no vacant property in the multimillion-dollar development, which is nearly finished.

"Southpointe truly works and is complete as a vision," said Christopher Fitting, vice president of Millcraft Industries, one of the primary developers of the community that features office, light industrial and residential space.

Robert Umstead, executive director of the Washington County Redevelopment Authority and Industrial Development Agency, said the time is near for Southpointe to be turned over to a landowners' association.

Currently, the authority enforces the rules, or protective covenant, that govern the community and is responsible for maintenance of the common areas. Property owners are assessed maintenance fees, based on the values of their land before it was developed.

When the landowners' association is formed, it will oversee those common areas and jobs such as mowing grass and landscaping, paying for street lights and maintaining the large sign that directs visitors to buildings, said Roger Carrier, who owns three businesses at Southpointe.

"We want to keep the park looking good," Carrier said. Referring to the redevelopment authority, he said, "We have the same interests as they do."

Some landowners and county officials, however, want to delay forming the association until after adjacent land on the former Western Center institutional site is developed.

"The covenant was written primarily with commercial development in mind," said Jim Mascuch of the Fairway Landings Townhome Owners Association. "The only people who can vote are parcel owners."

Mascuch and others are urging the redevelopment authority to delay the creation of a landowners' association because the remaining Western Center land, presumably, will contain more residences and the authority then will "see the inconsistencies in the current covenant."

The Washington County solicitor, at the request of the county commissioners, was reviewing the covenant this month.

Southpointe was developed on the former Western Center farmland off Interstate 79 in Cecil Township. The state sold the land to the redevelopment authority for $706,710.

Today, the remaining 200 acres of Western Center land — less than half the size of the Southpointe site — is appraised at about $9.5 million. The huge jump in the land value is based largely on the success of Southpointe.

Southpointe represents $250 million in private investment, and currently employs 4,500 to 4,600 people — with that figure expected to climb, Umstead said.

The largest employers there are Ansys Inc., a maker of engineering simulation software, and Crown Castle International, which owns and operates shared wireless communications and broadcast systems.

Millcraft Industries, Scalo Case and Horizon Properties — companies involved in the development of Southpointe — all have developed plans for the Western Center land, which still is owned by the state.

Development of that parcel is at least five years away, Fitting said.

Southpointe's success is partly due to its mix of business and residential properties and its location. There now are 79 townhouses, 120 apartments and 39 single-family homes there.

Greg Ramsey typifies the development's motto of being able to "live, work and play" there.

He moved to Southpointe a year ago from Oklahoma City as one of the first three employees of EOG Resources. The firm is on the third floor of Plaza One in the development.

Ramsey now lives in the Fairway Apartments and plans to build a home in Southpointe.

"I enjoy walking to work," he said. "There are literally weeks when I do not get my car out of the garage. If they put a grocery store and a dry cleaners here, I would never have to leave Southpointe."

Ramsey said he and his colleagues enjoy the golf course and health club. They entertain business guests at the new Hilton Garden Inn Pittsburgh Southpointe, which opened Oct. 4 with 175 rooms and a conference center with 20,000 square feet.

Paul Bazzano, the general manager, called Southpointe a "booming, growing area, and we feel it is going to continue to grow."

There have been other additions in the last year. Office buildings and homes continued to rise, and Waynesburg College moved its South Hills Adult Education Center into the Summit Corporate Center. St. Clair Hospital opened a medical suite, and the Southpointe Golf Course was expanded to include conference rooms.

As to the remaining 200 acres of Western Center, the state wants to sell the land by May, and a task force has recommended that it go to the county redevelopment authority.

But environmental work must be done before this land can be redeveloped. Unlike the farmland that became Southpointe, this site has 32 buildings that might contain asbestos, along with a power plant and underground lines. Inhalation of asbestos fibers has been linked to lung ailments.

"This is a brownfield site," Umstead said.

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