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Conservancy gains $700,000 grant for 51-acre purchase

| Saturday, April 10, 2004

The Allegheny Land Trust, a nonprofit land conservation group, has received $700,000 from the state to help purchase and preserve a pristine 51-acre site in Sewickley Heights.

The land, at the northwest corner of Magee and Audubon roads, is being sold by the McCargo family to the trust for $1.4 million. That is half of the parcel's $2.8 million market value, said Roy Kraynyk, director of the Sewickley-based trust.

Armed with the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources grant -- the largest grant the trust has received in its 11-year history -- the group will set out to raise the additional $700,000 needed to close the deal on what officials call the Audubon Greenway Project.

Kraynyk said the trust hopes to raise the money in 12 to 18 months through contributions.

"The family has made a substantial commitment toward conserving this land. It's a prime parcel that any developer would love to have," Kraynyk said. "Now we really need the community to step forward and support the protection of this unique property."

Tom McCargo, a real estate developer whose father bought the open farmland in the 1960s to preserve it, could not be reached for comment.

A statement from him posted on the Allegheny Land Trust's Web site says the family acquired the open farmland in the 1960s to ensure it would stay undeveloped.

"My family is in the real estate development business and is well aware of the commercial potential of the land," the statement says. "The lack of demographic and economic growth in the region has made economic development a priority over land preservation. Unfortunately, the two objectives are often considered at odds with each other. My family strongly believes the two are synonymous.

"We need to think of the future of the region and what cities around the world we would most like to emulate. I guarantee all the great cities have substantial open spaces and that we all praise the foresight of those who created them," the statement says.

Michael DiBerardinis, secretary of the conservation department, said the agency is working hard to provide grants to preserve land.

"With 300 acres of open space being developed each day (in Pennsylvania), it is clear we need to do more to protect the landscapes that create attractive places to live and work," he said.

Kraynyk said the land, which is adjacent to the 80-acre Sewickley Hill Park, lies at the headwaters of Little Sewickley Creek within the Camp Meeting Woods "biological diversity area" -- a designation for large tracts with exemplary plants, wildlife and water quality.

Little Sewickley Creek contains 22 species of fish, including a breeding population of brown trout.

Camp Meeting Woods is the largest of the seven high-quality biological diversity areas in Allegheny County, Kraynyk said.

Allegheny Land Trust guarantees that once it buys the land, the site will remain undeveloped. It will be used only for hiking, horseback riding and other passive activities normally permitted on trust properties.

The trust said current zoning would allow the land to be used for single-family homes and townhouses.

In October, the trust purchased 47 adjacent acres, also from the McCargo family. The trust paid half of the land's $1.2 million market value, according to county records.

Since incorporating in 1993, the trust has conserved 1,250 acres in and near Allegheny County.

For more information on the trust, or to make a donation, call (412) 749-4882.

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