The deteriorating 180-acre property that once housed Pittsburgh Cut Flower in Richland Township could be transformed from an eyesore into a solar farm and green space if a nonprofit's plans become reality.
"It is a complex project with all the issues that are out there," said Roy Kraynyk, executive director of the trust.
Those issues include 10 acres of greenhouses that have been neglected since the company closed the operation 22 years ago.
The greenhouses that once supplied flowers to retailers across the country have evolved into dilapidated structures of broken glass and frames, with native trees poking out of the roofs. Disturbed asbestos used to insulate water pipes also creates an environmental challenge.
The Allegheny Land Trust's vision is to clean up the 10-acre brownfield portion of the land by tearing down the greenhouses and replacing them with a solar farm that could generate power for a small commercial area, which might be located on 20 acres across the street, Kraynyk said.
About 150 acres would be permanent green space.
"The 150 is the carrot," said Kraynk. "The blighted area is obviously the down side."
This type of project is new to Allegheny Land Trust, he explained, because the trust usually works to conserve and act as a steward for pristine properties. Since it was incorporated in 1993, the trust has conserved about 1,500 acres in Allegheny and Washington counties.
Pittsburgh Cut Flower purchased the Richland property in 1901 and operated there until 1990. It has been in business for more than a century and still has locations in Pittsburgh's Strip District and Erie.
A Los Angeles Times article in 1985 quoted then-manager Steve Slatton as saying cheaper foreign imports were hurting American flower businesses. At the time, Pittsburgh Cut Flower was "one of the country's largest rose growers, producing about 5.5 million rose blossoms a year from 250,000 bushes," according to that article.
"We've watched that property deteriorate for the past 22 years," said Richland Township Manager Dean Bastianini. "Vandals have been into those buildings because of the high price of metals," and have disturbed the asbestos that once covered the metal pipes, he added.
"The (Allegheny) Land Trust's approach might be the best use of the land," he continued. "It is an opportunity to improve (the property) without costing taxpayers any dollars."
"Many, many, many" developers have looked at the site over the years, Bastianini said. But none bought it because of the obstacles they would have to overcome to develop it into a profitable venture, said Bastianini.
No one knows for sure how much it would cost to clean up the blighted greenhouse area, for one thing, he said.
In addition, the infrastructure and zoning for building a high-density housing plan does not exist there. The area has no sewer lines, and Bakerstown Road is not built to accomodate heavy traffic use, Bastianini said.
"For those reasons, we hope the current owner and land trust are successful," he said.
The property is ideal for a park, Bastianini said, noting the township passed a comprehensive plan that calls for creating a park in the western portion of the township.
Currently, the on the eastern side of the township is the main recreational spot in the township.
Development of any kind in the township must take into consideration the potential effect on the four watersheds—Pine Creek, Breakneck Creek, Deer Creek and Glade Run—within Richland's borders.
Allegheny Land Trust's plans call for using the 150-acre green space for passive recreation, and that could mean a park with trails similar to those in Beechwood Farms, said Bastianini.
The trust's plans for green space and a solar farm, coupled with nearby to make its 388-acre Eden Hall farm into one of the country's first sustainable campuses, would preserve the semi-rural nature that makes the Richland community attractive, Bastianini said.
Turning the blighted Pittsburgh Cut Flower property into an alternate energy source and developing Chatham's Eden Hall into an innovative "green" campus "could put Richland on the map," he said.
"Everyone wants to see that place cleaned up," said Kraynyk. "We hope to turn an eyesore into an asset."
Do you remember the days when Pittsburgh Cut Flower was operating? What was it like? What do you think about Allegheny Land Trust's plans? Tell us in the comments.