Development Threatens Popular W. PA Trail  

                                                                                  By Jerry Pearl 

Editor note: The expansive Montour Trail has won over the hearts of bikers within striking distance of Pittsburgh. It is considered a regional treasure. Now it is being threatened by a mall developer and its users are trying to win over the sensibilities of local government officials who will decide if the construction will proceed.  Mr. Pearl, a frequent trail user, is watching this issue closely.

On January 5, at the Robinson Township (PA) municipal building, the community's appointed board met with the developer of the new Pointe shopping center, in North Fayette Township, who was trying to move ahead on developing 350 acres of beautiful open space land behind Robinson Towne Centre strip shopping mall.

The space is untouched land with Montour Run Creek running through it, along with wetlands, glorious hilltops with trails and large stands of mixed woods, although, pines are most visible. Also, there is an old stone structure, no doubt, about 100 years old, which looks like an old pump house. The land speaks for itself.

The developer, in collaboration with DeBartolo Corporation, desires to build 4-5 buildings on this land. They have begun to prepare the land for building, although they do not have a definite site plan in site. The developer stated that he has move approximately 20 acres of land, yet it appeared to me that around 60 acres has been moved and ruined. The Robinson governing board granted a grading permit to move the so-called 20 acres without a site plan in place. Is this responsible leadership?

Discussions with Kaufmann's Department Stores had been going on. The plan was to get everything in order to build a 2-story structure on the first site, but this had not been cemented. The difficult issue is that land is being moved and trees are being cut down without a contract with anyone to occupy any of the proposed buildings. Without a contract or definitive site plan, this ruined land could sit idle indefinitely.

At the meeting, the developer wanted the Board to give the land a LERTA designation, which had been written for land that would have, for example, empty steel mills sitting on it and situated, probably, in an economically depressed area. THE LAST WE LOOKED, ROBINSON TOWNSHIP. DID NOT LOOK LIKE THAT! In fact, it is full of shopping centers and is quite congested with commerce.

Representatives from several groups spoke in opposition of the LERTA designation and described what has been the negative impact upon the trail as a result of the construction going on in its vicinity. Speakers included those from the Montour Trail Council, the Montour Valley Alliance, the Hollow Oak Land Trust, and the Forest Grove Sportsmen's Club, as well as a consultant, architect, and citizen.

As far as I could tell, the Board was not well-informed on the LERTA law and had not been in discussion with these opposition groups while having talks with the developer. The irony here is that the Board has invested time and support for the quality of life projects in this area, such as the trail and the watershed.

What was shared by the various groups was the fact that Montour Run was improving in quality and ability to support game fish. The Commission for Fish and Game was planning on further fish stocking due to the Montour Run's recovery in recent years. This process could be in jeopardy with the current runoff from construction and development. The Montour Trail experienced bad flooding in the last couple years due to the construction in the area.

The Montour Valley Alliance wants to rally the "wagons" to protect the 350 acres, trail and watershed. Another meeting--Tuesday, January 13, at 7 p.m. at the Forest Grove Sportsmen's Club--was planned for all those interested joining the effort.

Please take this development project as a wake-up call alerting all of us that community governing boards and developers are interested in taking the open space and wildness lands that add to our quality of life, and thus increasing the urban sprawl. We like space and want to preserve it.

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