The South Park Game Preserve's new baby buffaloes Takoda and Elu graze in front of a sign advocating against the proposed Sleepy Hollow housing development. Photo courtesy of Friends of the South Park Buffalo Preserve.

Update: The South Park Board of Supervisors voted against the township planning commission's recommendation and granted preliminary approval for the Majestic Woods LP development. The board's approval came with nine contingencies, including requirements for final geotechnical tests, a slew of Sleepy Hollow Road improvements and a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit.

A two-month-long battle against the development of South Park’s Sleepy Hollow is coming to a head on Monday, May 13, when it goes to the township’s board of supervisors for preliminary approval.

After hearing an outpouring of community opposition, the township’s planning commission voted against recommending the preliminary plans for the 108-home development on April 24. Many — including Tim Foster, a founder of the Friends of the South Park Buffalo Preserve Facebook page — are concerned that the construction and subsequent traffic would disrupt the quality of life for bison at the South Park Game Preserve.

“I’ve never opposed a development before — development happens,” Foster says. “But there are just some strategic green spaces that we owe to our next generation.”

In research articles and independent conversations with Foster, Jeff Martin, an assistant professor at South Dakota State University Extension and bison specialist, says the noise and land vibrations from the development less than 1 mile away could prove harmful to the stress-sensitive bison’s health.

Allegheny County parks officials did not respond to requests for comment.

Beyond concern for the bison, Foster worries that construction in Sleepy Hollow will be detrimental to the ground itself. Retired coal mines snake beneath Sleepy Hollow and other parts of South Park Township, and when the ground is disturbed by heavy traffic or machinery it could subside or collapse.

“In the last four or five months, there’s been five major water main breaks back there,” Foster says.

One night, Foster saw the yellow lights of Penn American Water Co. utility vehicles down the road from his house and went out to talk to them. They told him the influx of underground water and aboveground machinery use causes more subsidence and subsequent breaks.

The developer, Frank Zokaites with Northwest Land LLC, and architect Victor Wetzel Associates have conducted geological, water and other land surveys as part of its application, but issues at other Zokaites developments stirred negative sentiments in the South Park community.

At the April 24 meeting, Foster’s wife Diane shared a letter from Wexford resident Francis Hill, who was awarded $6.25 million after two different Zokaites-owned companies failed to follow an erosion control plan, which resulted in flood damage on Hill’s property, ALM’s Law.com reported in December 2023.

“I truly hope you take what was stated under serious consideration before allowing Frank Zokaites to develop in your township,” Diane read from Hill’s letter at the public meeting. “He cuts corners, has no regard for laws or regulations put in place to protect our communities. He does not admit to his wrongdoing and will countersue those that he has wronged.”

Zokaites and Victor Wetzel Associates did not respond to requests for comment.

Members of South Park Township’s planning commission and board of supervisors also did not respond to requests for comment.

“Legally, I have absolutely no reason that I’m allowed to defeat this program,” said Commissioner James Waychoff at the time of the vote. “Socially, morally, I have a very strong conscience to understand the will of the people. We have listened.”

Ahead of the May 13 board of supervisors meeting, Foster is concerned that the development will be approved out of fear of legal retaliation.

“If this guy wants to sue us, let him sue us for rejecting a development that has all these issues,” Foster says. “I’ll be the first to go and testify.”

Roman wants to hear the stories created in Pittsburgh. When not reporting, he plays difficult video games that make him upset and attempts to make delicious meals out of mismatched leftovers.