City Buys 'Hays Woods' For $5M To Create Park

Jul 7, 2016

A stream flows through a wooded area in Hays, where city leaders announced they've finalized the purchase of 660 acres of forest to create a new public park.
Credit Noah Brode / 90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto’s administration announced Thursday it has finalized the acquisition of 660 acres of woodland to create a park in the southern Pittsburgh neighborhood of Hays.

The city's Urban Redevelopment Authority bought the “Hays Woods” property from Pittsburgh Development Group II for $5 million, a figure city leaders said is well below market value.

In a statement, Peduto called the sale of the property a "tremendous gift."

"It will preserve hundreds of acres of untouched urban forest for generations," Peduto said.

The mayor added that he plans to dedicate the new park to Roxsan Betters, the late daughter of Charles Betters. The elder Betters is primary owner of Pittsburgh Development Group II.

Government regulators denied the company's plans to strip-mine the property before building a mixed-use residential and commercial development on the site. Ideas included a casino and racetrack.

Including an 18-acre portion in Baldwin Borough, the park would be Pittsburgh's largest at 660 acres. Frick Park currently holds that title with 644 acres.

Peduto's spokesman Tim McNulty said a committee including representatives from the city's parks department and environmental groups will determine what the finished park will look like and when it will open to the public. The URA will also study whether it's feasible to build a housing development on a small portion of the land.

Noting that a popular pair of bald eagles nest on the land, McNulty said the mayor intends to keep much of the property “wild.” The hilly, wooded property includes more than a mile of permanent streams and a waterfall.

Roy Kraynyk, vice president of land protection for the Allegheny Land Trust, said last month that city leaders are putting an environmental easement on the property with his group and the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy in order to prevent future city officials from developing the land.

“About 50 percent of the ridgelines and slopes along our major rivers are developed," Kraynyk said. "The other 50 percent is still natural, so we’re at this tipping point. If this site would’ve been developed, we could have seen that tipping point go beyond the balance that it is today.”

Kraynyk said the site's environmental challenges, such as steep slopes and undermining, make it difficult to develop.