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South Fayette officials, residents agree on need for open space at Boys home site

By Patrick Ponticel
Pittsburgh Post Gazette
Wednesday, February 04, 2004

South Fayette officials want to take a decidedly careful approach to residential growth, saying they are well aware of what indiscriminate development can do to suburban farms and woodlands.

That was evident at a special meeting recently about the old Boys Home property, a 214-acre farm off Battle Ridge Road near Oakdale that the township owns. The 50 residents and officials of South Fayette indicated a strong preference for preserving most, if not all, of the land.

“Minimal development and more preservation” should be the guiding mantra of South Fayette in its general approach to growth, resident Don Smith said. Regarding the Boys Home property, he said, “If there is going to be development, it should be controlled development.”

His wife, Amy, added, “The first priority should be no development.”

The Smiths’ comments were representative of most residents, although a few found much appeal in the idea of the township selling a portion of the property to pay for improvements to the Boys Home gymnasium.

The building is sound structurally, but a major renovation would be required for it to serve as a community athletic or meeting center. Commissioner Sue Caffrey, who serves on the board of the South Fayette Conservation Group, said she had no preconceived notions about what to do with the property overall. But as for the gymnasium, she hopes it can be renovated. Selling a portion of the property to pay for it is an option.

Residents were encouraged by Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation President Arthur Ziegler to mail additional comments to the township by Sunday. By Feb. 19, township and foundation officials will put together a proposed plan.

They have hired the consulting firm of LaQuatra Bonci Associates to, among other things, compile a natural resources inventory of the Boys Home property.

With this information, the company prepared several maps outlining how the property could be developed in conservation-friendly ways to accommodate a limited number of homes.

Fred Bonci, a principal in the company, emphasized that the purpose of the maps was to illustrate a general and more progressive approach to residential development. They were not designed, he said, as recommendations for how the Boys Home property should be developed. “That?s up to you,” he told the crowd. “These are simply ideas that can be used throughout the township.”

Several of the maps featured small clusters of small-lot homes with the majority of the property remaining open space. Others featured nonclustered homes on larger lots, the idea being that the property could be developed to a large extent but preserved to open space via easements.

Joe Hackett, of LaQuatra Bonci, said that in the township’s current zoning ordinance, land preservation was not a consideration. Were the township to sell the Boys Home property, he said, a developer could turn it into something that looks like one of the many “cookie-cutter” housing plans that have sprung up.

Caffrey said the township was updating the zoning ordinance to, among other things, put an end to tree-clearing residential development. Although many municipal zoning ordinances impose requirements for open space preservation, it is most generally the least desirable and least “developable” part of a property ? steep slopes, for example ? which developers will “dedicate” to open space, Bonci said. Ziegler and Bonci emphasized that, elsewhere, developers were beginning to realize that homeowners like having higher value open space bordering their properties.

The meeting was the second in a series to let residents express their preference for how the Boys Home property should be handled. The next meeting will be Feb. 19 in the conference center in the South Fayette Township High School.

(Patrick Ponticel is a freelance writer.)

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

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