Allegheny County council deals with parks issues

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 Fines were lowered, fees were raised and land was swapped Tuesday night at the regular meeting of Allegheny County Council, where much of the evening was spent discussing the county‘‍s parks. 

The land swap involved two small parcels near Deer Lakes Park, a county-owned park that sits in both Frazer and West Deer. In May, council members voted 9-5 to lease the county’‍s oil and gas rights beneath the park to driller Range Resources, provided that no drilling activities occur on the surface of the park. 

County Executive Rich Fitzgerald asked council members to consider trading 0.11 acres of land owned by the county that is across Fairfield Road from Deer Lakes Park to receive a 0.25 acre parcel owned by Kenneth and Christine Gulick of Frazer that is contiguous to the park.The parcels are appraised at roughly the same value.

The Gulicks, who purchased the farm in 2003, discovered the existence of the county parcel during conversations with Range about leasing their property, county solicitor Andrew Szefi said. He has described the parcel as one of the routes Range is considering to access the planned Gulick well pad. 

Some council members expressed concerns about the effect the swap would have on the Deer Lakes Park lease, particularly the prohibition against surface drilling activity. Councilwoman Barbara Daly Danko, D-Regent Square, suggested an amendment that made the swap contingent on annexing the new parcel to the park, and making it subject to terms of the county‘‍s lease. 

The amended land swap bill passed 12-2, with Heather Heidelbaugh, R-Mt. Lebanon, and Sue Means, R-Bethel Park, dissenting.

Council took a vote on another long-discussed issue in county government: the fine for parking in county parks. 

The topic first came up in May, when Mr. Fitzgerald said he was frustrated to hear from visitors to North Park, who said they had received tickets for parking on the grass that, with court fees, came close to $400. 

Council took up the issue, re-examining a 2006 ordinance that set the fines for various activities in the parks, including the $100 to $300 amount for parking on the grass. The change council passed Tuesday night makes parking on the grass a $50 fine, if paid to the county police within 7 calendar days. 

If not paid in that time frame, the ticket proceeds to a magistrate, and the cost is bumped back up to the original sliding scale. The new policy is set to go into effect Sept. 8. 

Council also voted to increase fees at some parks, especially Boyce Park in Plum, where, for example, a weekend or holiday lift ticket for an adult skier would increase from $14 to $22. 

Nicholas Futules, D-Oakmont and chair of the parks committee, called raising fees a necessary evil, saying the county’‍s parks require $100 million in deferred maintenance. 

Fellow council members Ms. Means and Ms. Heidelbaugh challenged the proposed fee increase. Ms. Means questioned whether the county should be in the ski business, while Ms. Heidelbaugh said the county should lower its fees so that parks are more accessible. 

The fee increase passed, 11-3, with Bill Robinson, D-Hill District,  joining Ms. Heidelbaugh and Ms. Means in dissent. Amanda Green Hawkins, D-Stanton Heights, did not attend the meeting. 

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