Development Update – Billionaire Farmer, Treehouse Karma

It’s time to re-visit some of the topics I’ve written about concerning recent development and land use efforts in our local area. Some are still newsworthy, and are starting to generate more activity on the local government front. Others are continuing to serve as reminders of how government should be designed to serve We The People..or not.

Tull Estate Expands     

A few weeks ago while Leslie and I were walking the dog, a construction pickup pulled to a stop on Ferry Street in Leetsdale. The driver flagged through a flatbed semi carrying a large bulldozer, which then made the right onto Beaver and the left up Camp Meeting Road.

After seeing this, I got online and made a phone call or two, to confirm something that I had speculated about in a post from the beginning of this year.

Allegheny County property records show that two residences along Camp Meeting Road in Leet Township, along with some adjacent parcels of land, were sold in March and May of this year for just under $1.5 Million.

Three Rivers Trust is now the listed owner of 200 and 210 Camp Meeting – this is the same owner as the former Walker Estate, “Muottas”, purchased by Legendary Pictures CEO Thomas Tull in November 2015.

These purchases now link Mr. Tull’s existing property to Camp Meeting Road, and he has wasted little time in getting things moving..literally.

“Muottas” Gets Ready To Move

210CampMeetingAccessRoad

Earth-moving equipment transforms the driveway of 210 Camp Meeting Road into an access road back to the former Walker estate “Muottas”, and its new location on the property.

As I wrote previously, the access to Mr. Tull’s property from the Edgeworth side is extremely narrow and somewhat steep, unsuited for heavy construction equipment.

After driving past the above-pictured location and seeing the work in progress, I spoke with Leet Township Assistant Manager Betsy Rengers, who confirmed that permits have been obtained to grade a new access road from 210 Camp Meeting back to the site where the old house will be relocated to (which is in Leet), as well as building permits to prepare the site for the eventual move of the old house. Heavy equipment belonging to a house moving company has been seen traveling up and down Camp Meeting Road as well.

MuottasDriveway

Driveway leading onto Tull property from Little Sewickley Creek Road side in Edgeworth, now gated off.

Leet Has Growing Pains

Along with the roadway creation and site preparation, Mr. Tull and his representatives are also moving quickly to secure the appropriate government approvals for other aspects of the construction project, such as water and sewer connections. A Leetsdale Borough official stated last week that sewer pipes from the new construction will eventually run under a roadway that goes through the Lark Inn Fields subdivision.

Infrastructure notwithstanding, there are additional development aspects of the project that are curious, and are drawing a curious response from some area residents.

This Monday, the Leet Township Zoning Hearing Board will hold what could be the first of several hearings on Mr. Tull’s request to obtain zoning variances to establish a “gentleman’s farm” on approximately 90 acres of his existing property in Leet.

According to Wikipedia

A gentleman’s farm is a largely historic term for a property, of varying size, that is owned by a farmer traditionally know as a gentleman farmer…the largely historic term used to describe a country gentleman who has a farm as part of his estate and farms mainly for pleasure rather than for profit.  His acreage may farm any number of types of grains, poultry or other livestock. The estate can vary from under ten to hundreds of acres.

MuottasFencing

New fence going up along the property line for the Tull estate on the Edgeworth side.

Mr. Tull has also requested a variance to erect a fence completely surrounding the farm property.  As illustrated above, fencing appears to already be going up on the Edgeworth side of the property, which will presumably connect to the Leet side if approved – possibly resulting in the fencing off of the entire estate.

News about this proposal and the hearing was distributed to Leet residents, including those in the nearby Quaker Heights subdivision. I first caught wind of it through the neighborhood-based social media site nextdoor.com.

A June 28 post to the Quaker Heights neighborhood on that site included the following:

You should have received a yellow paper from the Zoning Board about a meeting on July 11 and I urge everyone up in Leet Twp to attend! On the right side of Camp meeting coming up the hill there is a large Farm that is trying to be developed which could affect all of us on top of the hill across from it and it beside us . We might end up losing a large plot of land for taxable income along with a lot of other issues from this so called farm that will affect all of us in Quaker Heights, (Buhlmont) Drive and Sewickley Highlands that none of us were aware of until now. PLEASE attend this hearing and tell your neighbors to attend as they plan on running chain link fence along Camp meeting to block the deer out which means our deer population will soar and we are losing valuable tax income from this property becoming a farm.

This type of community information or alert is almost expected when land use issues arise that may impact the perceived quality of life of a particular area or neighborhood. What makes this one different is that the person posting this “alert” is using the name Susann Hyjek – wife of Leet Township Manager Wayne Hyjek.

This is not to say that Mrs. Hyjek isn’t entitled to her own opinion, independent of her husband or his employer – but combined with the distribution of a meeting notice it does seem to expose an irony in comparison to other recent land use issues of note.

‘Equal Protection of the Laws’

Speaking of those issues, it was heartening to read the front page of last week’s Sewickley Herald and see Elise Truchan bringing her treehouse back to life in a place where the tender sensibilities of at least one neighbor, and the intransigence of Leet Township and its codes, aren’t as offended.

To try and put Mr. Tull and his proposals into proper perspective – they ain’t no 8th grader’s school project. Ample evidence of this is contained within the proposals listed in the Zoning Hearing Board notice, specifically the last one:

(3) If the variances are not granted, a challenge to the validity of the Township’s Zoning Ordinance adopted by the Leet Township Commissioners, on the grounds that the Ordinance allegedly does not properly address agricultural uses within the Township.

From the tone of this request, it sounds as if Mr. Tull is prepared to challenge any disapproval, possibly with legal action, for which it would appear he can very easily afford.

In short – Give me what I want, or I may very well litigate you into submission.

I anticipate that there will indeed be a healthy crowd when the Zoning Hearing Board convenes on Monday evening. The fact that they may muster a quorum, which they couldn’t bother to do when the Truchans paid for a hearing, may also show that they are taking this proposal seriously – which is entirely appropriate and proper for ALL citizens, not just the ones with deep pockets.

To add even more irony, July 9 marks the 148th anniversary of the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which includes the following:

No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

It is the responsibility of Leet Township to give these proposals a fair hearing and review in accordance with existing law and regulations. Mr. Tull’s representatives, and those citizens present, will no doubt demand nothing less. It’s just a shame that those same due process requirements were at best given limited shrift in at least one previous case.

I hope that the township and its citizens come out of the process feeling better about it than the Truchan family did. If not, there will be some serious self-evaluation in order – probably around election time.

The outcome of that may be directly proportional to the amount of residential landscape vegetation consumed by displaced, migrating deer.

Have a good week ahead.

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One Response to Development Update – Billionaire Farmer, Treehouse Karma

  1. Pingback: Summer / Autumn Decennial Digest | John Linko

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