Trails lead to disputes in McKeesport

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A plan to turn about five acres of vacant land into dirt-bike trails in McKeesport's Haler Heights neighborhood has divided residents, with some saying they're trying to provide a safe place for kids and teens to play and others expressing concern about noise and safety.

Residents showed up at last week's council meeting holding signs with statements such as "Stand Up For Kids," "Private Property, My Property" and "Trail Bike Riders Are Not Law Breakers."

Jimmy Young, who lives on Arnold Street in Haler Heights, said he bought the property, which is divided into four lots, where McKeesport children used to ride bicycles and dirt bikes and play baseball so that his children and their friends can have a safe place to ride bikes close to home.

"How cool would it be to transform this back to what it was and give these kids an [alternative] to playing on the street?" he said at the Sept. 5 meeting.

But Beatrice Longo, a retired lawyer who has lived in Haler Heights for two decades, expressed concern about the noise emanating from motorized bikes and ATVs as well as the potential for property values to plummet because the site is in the middle of a residential area.

Ms. Longo emphasized that she likes the Youngs and their children, but she questioned why the lots couldn't be used for riding bicycles or playing baseball.

"Why is it that children have to be on motorized vehicles in a residential area?" she said. "I don't believe those vehicles belong in a residential area. If I were a Realtor, I wouldn't want to be showing a house when they're going full force on the ATV track."

Ms. Longo said she'd like city officials to enact an ordinance restricting the use of motorized bikes.

Haler Heights has a restrictive covenant prohibiting any "noxious or offensive activity" that could "become an annoyance or nuisance to the neighborhood." The city cannot enforce the covenant; residents opposed to the plan for the lots would have to file a civil suit in Commonwealth Court.

Mayor Mike Cherepko said police will enforce noise ordinances and cite anyone riding a motorized bike on city streets, but he noted that a challenge involving the terms of the Haler Heights covenant would be a civil matter.

Mr. Cherepko plans to meet with Haler Heights residents at 2 p.m. Friday. He said he hopes both sides can come up with an amicable solution.

Mr. Young emphasized that he doesn't plan to turn the site into a commercial enterprise and said the noise residents heard late last month wasn't from motorized bikes but from chain saws.

He and several other residents cut trees on the lot into firewood to clear paths for riding.

neigh_east - neigh_south

Annie Siebert: asiebert@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1613. Twitter: @AnnieSiebert.


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