County intends to sell land to be used by Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Pittsburgh

Barbara Miller
Observer Reporter

The regional headquarters of the Greek Orthodox church of Pittsburgh will be moved from that city to Washington County once its building, estimated to cost $3.5 million, is complete.

Plans came to light in conjunction with the Washington County commissioners’ vote Thursday to sell a tract of land slightly larger than nine acres in South Strabane Township to be used, eventually, as meeting space for the governing body of 55 congregations.

The $15,000 purchase price is greater than the land’s fair market value, according to Raphael Casale, the county’s chief assessor, and appraiser William R. Bostedo.

The actual buyer is Michael Pihakis, and if the conveyance of property to the Metropolis of Pittsburgh – similar to a diocese – does not occur, title to the property will revert to Washington County.

Pihakis, who said he is buying the property as a tribute to his parents, Manuel and Evelyn (Dolly) Pihakis of Canonsburg, will be paying all costs associated with the sale, such as advertising it in case anyone has a reason that the sale is not in the best public interest.

The county is retaining the rights to any oil and natural gas under the land off Enterprise Drive in the vicinity of Country Club Road, but it has pledged not to exercise or grant surface rights.

The tract once connected with county-owned land in the Arden area, but the contiguous acreage was bisected by Interstate 79.

Because of this, Scott Fergus, Washington County director of administration, described it as “orphaned.”

“There is really no reason for the county to own that piece of land.”

County property surrounds the private Cooke Family Burial Ground on three sides.

The cemetery is not part of the sale.

Fundraising for the Greek church’s building project includes the sale of its headquarters at 5201 Ellsworth Ave., which borders Pittsburgh’s Oakland-Shadyside neighborhoods.

The jurisdiction of the Metropolis of Pittsburgh includes all of Pennsylvania except Philadelphia; all of Ohio except Cincinnati; and all of West Virginia.

“It is very difficult when we have a meeting for representatives of 55 congregations to get through the Parkway to Pittsburgh,” said Dr. Nicholas Loutsion of Chartiers Township, vice president of the Metropolis Council.

The site’s proximity to Interstates 79 and 70 is expected to make access more convenient.

Michael Kusturiss, Canonsburg insurance agent, and his wife, Maureen, donated an adjacent 9.5 acres to the regional church project approximately three years ago. Kusturiss is chairman of the building project.

The Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Pittsburgh hopes to break ground in the fall of 2019.

The project encompasses two stages, beginning with a chapel, meeting room and offices for administration.

A small residence for Metropolitan Archbishop Savas (Zembillas), who was enthroned at St. Nicholas Cathedral in Pittsburgh on Dec. 8, 2011, is the second phase.

“I’m satisfied,” county commission Chairman Larry Maggi said after the agenda-setting meeting. “We’ve probably had that property for years, and no interest was ever shown in it. It would be a plus for Washington County to have the archbishop of the Greek church.”

Loutsion foresees a mutual benefit.

“The ministries we provide will help some of the county people also,” he said.