July 31, 2008

North Hills Urban Development Retains Spirit of Natives

By Rick Wills, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Jul. 31--The latest "new urban" development in the North Hills retains the name of the American Indian path that once passed through it.

And those involved in Venango Trails plan to retain some of the spirit of those natives who used the trail to get between Lake Erie and the Ohio River.

"We could have put up a flock of boxes here and made one and a half times more," owner Robert Randall said at the site of what will be 497 homes surrounded by woods on a former golf course. "Sustainability and green -- they are buzzwords, but they are turning into action and are important to young people."

A groundbreaking on the project this week included words from Roy Kraynyk, executive director of the Allegheny Land Trust, and a blessing offered by Dan Morales and Miguel Sague of the Council of Three Rivers American Indian Center Inc.

The development includes 151 acres of homes and 174 acres of open space, 84 of which are mature woods that are being turned over to the Allegheny Land Trust, the largest gift the land trust has ever received.

"It's a unique opportunity for a land trust to be involved in a groundbreaking," Kraynyk said.

The 325-acre development will offer homes that range in price from about $200,000 to $1 million.

"This is a beautiful place. We wanted to create a true neighborhood community," said Brett Malky of EQA Landmark Communities, a Strip District company that also developed Summerset at Frick Park.

Venango Trails will be the third community in the North Hills done in a style called "new urbanism."

In nearby Cranberry, work on Belle Vue Park and Park Place -- compact neighborhoods with sidewalks, alleys, front porches and small town squares -- is under way.

To make way for those developments, Cranberry officials had to overhaul their zoning codes.

Allegheny County's northern communities like Marshall and Pine, along with Butler County's southernmost communities, are among the region's fastest-growing areas.

More demand for housing is expected to follow the relocation of Westinghouse Electric Co.'s headquarters to Cranberry.

"The hardest thing to do in an area like this is smart growth. This will be one of the greatest developments in Allegheny County," said county Chief Executive Dan Onorato.

The opportunities for new development put pressure on local officials, said Tom Madigan, chairman of Marshall's supervisors. "We have tremendous pressure to develop," he said.

Randall has owned the land for 30 years. The Venango Trails Golf Course, one of several golf courses in the immediate area, closed three years ago.


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