Category Archive: Neighborhood Development
After three productive meetings with community stakeholders in Dormont and Carnegie this spring, the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation is compiling planning documents for the two boroughs, which are the latest entrants into Allegheny County’s downtown revitalization program.
Allegheny Together, a comprehensive downtown revitalization program aimed at improving the physical attributes and businesses of its participating communities started in 2007. Since then, PHLF has served as a co-administrator of the initiative.
The program is funded by Allegheny County and its participating communities include Bellevue, Bridgeville, Coraopolis, Elizabeth, Stowe, Swissvale, Tarentum, Verona, and the two newest participants Dormont and Carnegie.
First, PHLF is putting together a strategic plan to evaluate how the commercial district currently functions, make recommendations for improvements, identify opportunities for new types of businesses based on market research, and overall trends in a variety of census data categories.
We have also been reviewing the current zoning and building codes for Dormont and Carnegie, and making specific recommendations for ways to encourage historic preservation, guide new construction, and allow for good signage. These recommendations are designed to aid the local planning commissions and councils in updating the current signage and zoning ordinances.
We examined the parking and traffic issues in Dormont and Carnegie, and have compiled a report detailing parking availability in and around the commercial district, traffic flow at key intersections, and made recommendations to alleviate any issues.
Finally, design guidelines are being finalized that will aid business and property owners in the commercial district in making appropriate physical improvements to the facades of their properties. The design guidelines are meant to be a guide, to inspire individuals to make improvements, and to be a resource for anyone that wants to understand how to make good improvements to commercial properties.
We look forward to sharing our work with the communities in the near future.
Plans to run school board candidates to block Crafton Elementary closureThursday, February 24, 2011By Kim Lawrence
A parents group in the Carlynton School District plans to run a slate of candidates in an effort to reverse the decision to consolidate Crafton and Carnegie elementary schools.
Carlynton school directors voted 5-4 last Thursday to close the two schools and construct a new elementary building for approximately $30 million in the vicinity of Carnegie Elementary. The Honus Wagner athletic field would remain untouched.
Thomas Brown, Patricia Schirripa, Thomas DiPietro, Ronald McCartney and Sandra Hughan supported the proposal, which has been discussed since last year.
Parents opposed to the plan have argued that a better use of funds would be to renovate the elementary buildings.
Crafton resident Megan Schriver said the slate will seek nominations May 17 for five school board seats as advocates of saving neighborhood schools, keeping neighborhoods intact and thriving, and being fiscally responsible with renovations and upkeep of school buildings.
“We don’t have the candidates yet, but they all will be individuals who understand the importance of neighborhood schools,” Mrs. Schriver said, noting that not all of the candidates will be from Crafton.
She is a member of Carlynton Save Our Schools, a group described on its website as parents, residents and business owners promoting fiscal responsibility by keeping and renovating community schools.
SOS has posted green and gold “save our neighborhood schools” yard signs throughout the district, which covers Carnegie, Crafton and Rosslyn Farms.
While there are no schools in Rosslyn Farms, the borough had sent a letter to the district, requesting school officials to consider reasonable and affordable renovations to the elementary schools and consider merging with another district.
The decision to consolidate was among 10 options presented in a feasibility study by L. Robert Kimball & Associates to renovate or expand schools or construct a new building.
The junior-senior high school was built in 1969, Carnegie Elementary was built in 1954 and Crafton Elementary was build in 1913. Each building has had at least one renovation.
At the Feb. 17 meeting, Crafton parents again pleaded their case about keeping their neighborhood school, and several Carnegie parents welcomed the idea of a new school in their neighborhood.
Mr. DiPietro said that because of Crafton council’s resolution and continued public pledge to keep Crafton Elementary School, the board was forced to chose Carnegie as the site for the new elementary school.
He said the district was dismayed by Crafton’s efforts to stop the building. He said sarcastically, “It’s a great message to send to the kids to have council threaten the school board.”
Director Sharon Wilson, the only board member who lives in Crafton, voted via speaker phone against the proposal.
She said she didn’t want to cut programs or maintain an empty building, but she wanted to have an increase in space and she wanted the cost of infrastructure to balance with the cost of education.
Director Betsy Tassaro who also voted no said, “I don’t feel like we’ve done enough.” She said she recognized that the communities want to keep their schools.
Comments from parents were heard for about an hour and a half prior to the vote.
Carnegie council members were also in attendance cheering the board on.
Councilwoman Carol Ann Covi said, “My bottom line is the children. I would love to see both schools renovated. We would welcome a new school in Carnegie.”
Carnegie council President Patrick Catena thanked the school board for its due diligence with the financial analysis.
He said renovating the schools would only be putting a Band-Aid on them and that everything would be more expensive a few years later.
“Carnegie council believes in consolidation,” Mr. Catena said. “It makes the most sense.”
Thursday, February 17, 2011By Deborah M. Todd, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Using a range of emotional and economic arguments, dozens opposed to the proposed closing of Pitcairn Elementary School stated their case Tuesday night during a public hearing hosted by the Gateway School District.
Standing before the school board and other district officials, the majority of speakers testified to the school’s significance to community vitality. Rollo Vecchio, president of Pitcairn council, said a condition of the original merger of the two districts serving Monroeville and Pitcairn in the 1950s was that a school building always remain in Pitcairn.
“It’s part of our community that has served its meaning well and I’m asking you to keep it up … It’s the centerpiece of our community and I hope it can stay that way,” he said.
The school district is considering closing Pitcairn Elementary as part of a realignment plan that could eliminate all elementary buildings in favor of a new K-4 building on the Gateway Campus.
Mr. Vecchio dismissed a finding by consulting firm Education Management Group LLC that the school faces threat of flooding from Dirty Camp Creek, stating that a project redirecting the stream is nearly 90 percent complete.
Many more speakers rejected aspects of the report, including no mention of how much money the district would save through the closure and a lack of plans to close any elementary school other than Pitcairn.
“There has been no positive plan for maintaining Pitcairn Elementary School presented by the school board. Overall, the conclusions of EMG were always prejudiced and slanted, targeting Pitcairn Elementary School time and time again for closure,” said Betsy Stevick, president of the Pitcairn High School Alumni Association.
Some speakers offered alternatives to the plan to consolidate schools. Speaker Fred Mendicina suggested closing University Park Elementary and distributing its students throughout the remaining schools to increase all of the buildings’ enrollment. Speaker Leeann Pruss suggested the district extend elementary schools to fifth grade and merge schools for grades 6-8.
“It would solve the issues of those wanting more students on Gateway Campus, it would give you [Gateway Middle School] located near the parkway and turnpike that could potentially sell for a lot more than Pitcairn Elementary, it would eliminate a transition for all students instead of increasing transitions for Pitcairn students, and it gives you a lot more future benefits than closing one elementary and leaving all others operating under capacity,” she said.
District officials declined comment following the meeting, but some of those who attended said they were encouraged by board members’ actions during the meeting.
“We don’t know, but it looked like they were paying attention,” Ms. Pruss said.
“They’re going to have to go home and digest the information,” Ms. Stevick said.
Either way, Ms. Pruss said, this isn’t the last the board has heard from them.
“They have 90 days, we’re not going to leave them alone, we’re not going to let it drop,” she said.
‘Allegheny Grows’ will donate produce to food pantries, families in needThursday, February 17, 2011By Len Barcousky, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
A new “urban farm” in Bellevue will help North Hills Community Outreach achieve one of its top goals for the more than 1,200 families it serves each year.
The fresh tomatoes, peppers and beans raised there this summer will aid the social service agency in assuring “adequate healthy nourishment for the people who use our food pantries,” executive director Fay Morgan said.
Bellevue’s new garden will be part of the second year “Allegheny Grows” urban-agriculture effort. Bellevue, Wilkinsburg and Penn Hills were selected last week to participate in the expansion of the program.
Their projects were selected from among proposals submitted by a dozen municipalities and their local partners.
The community gardens and urban farms that Allegheny Grows sponsors offer environmental, economic, social and educational benefits, project manager Iris Whitworth said. She works for the county’s economic development office.
Communities and projects were picked based on strong municipal leadership, enthusiasm of local volunteers, suitability of their garden site and community need, Ms. Whitworth said.
The effort has the support of County Executive Dan Onorato. “Allegheny Grows builds on the county’s ongoing initiatives to revitalize older communities and distressed municipalities through sustainable development and strategic investment,” he said in a statement.
This year’s budget for Allegheny Grows is about $75,000. In addition to setting up new projects in the three communities, the funds will be used to cover second-year costs for garden projects begun last year in Millvale and McKees Rocks.
Gardeners in both communities will get seedlings and technical advice. Millvale’s project also will receive rain-collecting barrels, and McKees Rocks will get help in edging its garden beds and making them accessible to people with disabilities.
The money for Allegheny Grows comes from federal community development block grants.
Local partners in each community will work with “Grow Pittsburgh,” which was formed in 2005 to encourage city gardening, and with the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy is well known for its summer flower gardens. Working with various partners, it plants 140 of those in 20 counties.
The organization also has been long involved in support for vegetable gardening, Judy Wagner said. She is the director of the conservancy’s community gardens and greenspace programs. Its community garden projects were common in the 1980s as the region’s steel industry collapsed, she said. Many families turned to growing food for themselves and their neighbors.
More than a year ago, the conservancy and Grow Pittsburgh teamed up to teach people how to grow food in urban setting.
Conservancy staff will work on design and construction at all three sites while Grow Pittsburgh will take lead in training volunteers.Bellevue
Bellevue’s project will be on Davis Avenue on a 13,500-square-foot tract owned by North Hills Community Outreach. The land had been donated in 2008 by Terrie Amelio, of McCandless, to the social-service agency. The site will be named the Rosalinda Sirianni Memorial Garden in honor of Mrs. Amelio’s mother, Ms. Morgan said.
Most of the labor for the organic farming effort will be provided by volunteers, who will be supervised by a part-time community outreach employee, Ms. Morgan said. Produce grown there will be donated to food pantries.
Bellevue will supply water for the garden, and two foundations are among those aiding the effort. The Comcast Foundation will provide funds to hire the part-time coordinator, and the Grable Foundation has given money to pay local youth helpers to work with the volunteers.Wilkinsburg
Wilkinsburg’s urban farm will be part of a 2-acre site on Jeanette Street in the city’s Hamnett Place neighborhood. The land is owned by Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, which already is involved with several housing renewal projects in the community. Allegheny Grows will be working with a citizens organization called Hamnett Place Community Garden Association to plant and care for the site.
The site will have 16 individual plots and can be expanded to more than 20, garden association president Rachel Courtney said. Another portion of the vacant lot will be converted into a play-and-learning area for neighborhood children.
Local residents are already planning their own plots. “A woman from Jamaica has told us she hopes to grow things that she can’t find in the grocery stores here,” Ms. Courtney said.
“Buildings are not what make communities,” Karamagi Rujumba said. “People make communities.”
That is why his employer, the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, is assisting in the Allegheny Grows effort, he said. Mr. Rujumba is coordinator of landmarks foundation programs in Wilkinsburg.
The garden and adjoining children’s “learning space” should teach people practical gardening skills and give them a sense of ownership in their community, he said.
The Hamnett Place project also has received funding from the Heinz Endowment, the Richard Mellon Scaife Foundation, Allegheny County and the state.Penn Hills
Penn Hills will provide water and leaf-mulch compost for an expanded community garden that occupies the site of a former municipal ballfield in the 1100 block of Jefferson Road.
Local Boy Scouts last year helped to clear and prepare the site for gardening as an Eagle Scout project, Ed Zullo, president of Penn Hills Community Development Corp., said.
The site had been divided into a dozen raised garden beds, and plans for this spring call for almost doubling that number to 22 plots.
Gardeners last year raised vegetables both for their families and donated baskets of tomatoes and peppers to two local food pantries, Mr. Zullo said. That effort likely will expand to benefit a third pantry this year.
His agency’s partnership with Allegheny Grows could mark the start of efforts to create additional agricultural sites across Penn Hills, he said.
Community gardens offer multiple benefits, supporters say. They provide fresh, healthy food and they can improve the appearance of blighted land. Their vegetation helps to reduce storm-water run-off, and the flowering plants growing there help support bee colonies and other pollinators.
They also have less obvious advantages. “Neighbors in Millvale really enjoy working together,” the conservancy’s Ms. Wagner said. “You are growing your community as you are growing vegetables.”
Mr. Zullo agreed that gardens can serve as a development tool. “We get neighbors of different generations and different races interacting,” he said. “Old people teach young people, and neighbors compete over who has grown better tomatoes.”
By Richard Gazarik, TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
An Allegheny County development firm plans to build a medical facility and student housing at the site of the former Brownsville Tri-County Hospital in Fayette County, a company official disclosed.
Falck Properties of Bethel Park said Tuesday that plans include an urgent-care facility, blood lab, senior citizen center, and a restaurant and cafeteria.
Spokeswoman Karen Frank said the housing will be for upperclassmen and graduate students who attend nearby California University of Pennsylvania in Washington County.
The company is not affiliated with the school, university officials said last week.
The Fayette County Planning Commission last week unanimously recommended a zoning change that will allow development of the 27-acre site. A public hearing on the zoning change will be March 24 in Uniontown, a planning commission clerk said.
The hearing occurs two days before a bankruptcy court-imposed deadline to complete the sale to Falck in order to avoid a sheriff’s sale of the property.
A bankruptcy court judge gave Falck until March 26 to complete the transaction. Parkvale Bank, which is owed $1.2 million, wants to sell the property to the highest bidder but agreed to delay the sale to give Falck time to obtain financing.
“We are hoping that the Falck Properties will create a stable tax base for Redstone Township and will lead to additional opportunities for other land and business owners,” Frank said.
Falck is paying $1.8 million for the property and has submitted $180,000 in hand money, which will be forfeited if the sale is not completed, according to a court order.
The sale hit a snag when it was discovered that the property was misadvertised as zoned for commercial use when its actual zoning classification is residential. That error has prevented Falck from obtaining financing for the project.
Brownsville Hospital closed in 2006 because it was losing money. Another group of investors reopened the hospital but could not make the facility profitable.
Since then, community leaders searched for ways and the financial means to restart a hospital but have not been successful.
Thursday, February 10, 2011
By Mark Belko, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
A Hill District grocery store is moving a step closer to reality.
The Hill House Economic Development Corp. announced today that it had hired the joint venture team of L.S. Brinker and CM Solutions to serve as construction managers for the project.
The minority-owned firms will oversee the construction of the 36,410-square-foot retail plaza on Centre Avenue that will contain a full-service Shop ‘n Save store. Brinker is headquartered in Detroit with offices in Pittsburgh, and CM Solutions is Pittsburgh-based.
Site work is expected to begin in March. The goal is to open the grocery before Thanksgiving. Besides the supermarket, the plaza will contain 6,900 square feet of commercial retail space.
Thursday, February 10, 2011By Karen Kane, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Saxonburg’s Main Street program manager says he’s feeling “pretty blessed” by the news last month that the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation had come through with a $1.4 million grant.
The money was both needed and expected. But, Raymond Rush said he was happy it was all official.
“We’ve been blessed by PennDOT and beyond,” he said.
Design and engineering work is under way for reconstruction of both sides of Main Street — a four-block section of the street that spans about 2,200 feet from Butler Street to Rebecca Street. Those costs are being covered by a $373,027 grant awarded in May by the Department of Community and Economic Development.
Now, PennDOT has come through with a $1.4 million grant for construction of half of the project: from Pittsburgh Street west to Rebecca Street.
The work will involve reconstructing sidewalks and curbs, and installing landscaping. Street lights that replicate old-style German lights will be installed.
The first half of the project is to be under way in the second half of the year with finishing work in the first quarter of 2012, Mr. Rush said. Sometime early in 2012, he’s expecting to hear that PennDOT is coming through with the rest of the funding. The total project cost is estimated at $2.4 million. The second half of the project would start during the 2012 construction season. Mr. Rush predicted the job would be completed within a year’s time.
He credits receipt of the grants to a partnership between the borough and the John Roebling’s Historic Saxonburg Society Inc., a nonprofit group that sponsors the Main Street program. The society is named for the town’s founder who invented wire cable and is famous for bridge design. One of his most notable projects was the Brooklyn Bridge in New York.
Saxonburg’s Main Street is an official historic district on both state and national levels. There are 52 historic buildings in the four-block project area, including Mr. Roebling’s home. A native of Germany, he designed the borough.
Mr. Rush said the reconstruction project will maintain the borough’s historic look while modernizing the infrastructure.
“It will bring the 1850s look into modern society,” he said.
Blue Spruce a Murrysville landmarkThursday, February 10, 2011By Laurie Bailey
Murrysville’s landmark Blue Spruce Motel on Route 22 will be demolished at the end of this month.
“Basically, it’s going to be a flat piece of land,” said Hallie Chatfield, revitalization coordinator at the Westmoreland Redevelopment Authority. The organization is funding the demolition contract awarded to A.W. McNabb LLC of Burgettstown. Ms. Chatfield said the $56,800 grant for the work comes from a federal Community Development Block Grant.
Work that will result in the demise of the motel, pool, pool house and beverage area was originally scheduled to start Monday, but the necessary equipment was unavailable, said Ms. Chatfield. A.W. McNabb is contracted to complete the work within 90 days.
“They will first need to do an internal clean-out before they can demolish it,” said Ms. Chatfield who noted the outside probably wouldn’t be coming down for two more weeks.
In 1956, Camille Naffah purchased the five-acre property for $7,500 and tore down the original structure, the ’40s-era John’s Motel. In its place, he built the Blue Spruce, a single-level motel with clean, simple architecture. In the summer, the large public pool attracted locals from surrounding communities.
Stuart Patz remembered coming out to swim as a high school and college student from his Stanton Heights home in the late 1950s and early 1960s when there were few other public pool options.
“All the kids from the East End were there. It was very pleasant and a nice, social thing. I have such great memories, a real nostalgic feeling toward the facility,” said Mr. Patz, now living in Washington, D.C.
In the mid-’80s, a second level, a restaurant and bar were added to the structure. Mr. Naffah lived in an apartment above the motel’s lobby.
In 1996, the aging motel gained brief local notoriety as a location for the movie, “Kingpin,” with Woody Harrelson.
“They really fixed it up, repainted the outside pink and blue,” said John Cardwell, executive director of the Murrysville Economic and Community Development Corporation.
For several years, the property has been vacant, with the paint in the abandoned pool increasingly chipping.
“The motel closed about four years ago. The pool probably has been closed for 10-plus years,” Mr. Cardwell said.
Mr. Naffah tried unsuccessfully to sell his motel in 2005 before his death in 2007. He left the property to his employee, Emily Moroney, who also died that same year.
Currently, the Blue Spruce is part of the estate of Ms. Moroney, which approved the demolition in hopes of making the property more attractive to developers, Mr. Cardwell said.
Right now, there are no plans for the land, which includes a one-acre “banner parklet” adjacent to the Blue Spruce. It is also for sale with the property and is owned by the development corporation.
“I think there is a vision that is consistent with the streetscape study done in the ’90s,” Mr. Cardwell said.
That vision includes small shops and offices.