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KD Investigates: City May Get Major New Park, With One Snag

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- It's 613 acres of green woodlands -- its only inhabitants are Pittsburgh's beloved pair of bald eagles.

But if talks go well, a large tract of land will become the site of city's next major new park to rival Schenley and Frick.

It's welcome news to people like Robert Nelson who walks its trails with his dog 'Bear' every day.

"I'd be glad to have that happen," he said.

The tract is owned by Beaver County developer Chuck Betters who's plan 11 years ago to turn the site into a racetrack and casino was met with stiff neighborhood opposition.

"This is about one person's personal greed and trying to secure a license for a $500 million racetrack and casino," said a resident at a previous community meeting.

Unsuccessful in that racino venture, Betters now plans on giving the city a major gift.

He's been in talks with the Peduto Administration for more than a year about developing the top of it into housing and the donating the remainder to a land trust for a sprawling park with woodland trails and commanding vistas.

"This is the next logical step to see a new neighborhood, but the nice thing is there's so much land that we can also see our first park south of the rivers," said Mayor Bill Peduto.

Depending on how much of that 600 acres is set aside, it could be developed into Pittsburgh's next great park along with Riverview with 259 acres -- Highland Park with 380 acres. Schenley which has 456 acres and Frick Park is the city's largest with 644 acres.

But there is one potential snag in the deal. Chuck Betters will retain the mineral rights to the land and the mayor says Mr. Betters is interest in drilling there for natural gas, but the mayor says that's not going to happen.

The city has an ordinance banning shale gas development within its limits and Peduto says that as long as he's mayor, there will be no drilling in Hays or elsewhere.

"Sometimes Mr. Betters gets drawn back to the idea that there's money in them there hills," said Peduto. "I just have to dig down to get it. We're not interested in that."

When reached by phone, Betters told KDKA's Andy Sheehan he would have no comment on the talks, but sources say the environmental group PennFuture is working with the Allegheny Land Trust to draw up a potential deed.

A spokeswoman for PennFuture told KDKA:

"We are at a very delicate juncture in the negotiations but we're hopeful and we're working toward making an historic announcement in the near future."

So if all goes well in the next few weeks and days there will be that historic announcement and Pittsburgh will have a brand new park to add to its urban jewels.

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