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Munhall council to consider wider historic district – Residents oppose development plans

Thursday, January 25, 2007
By Jan Ackerman,
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Residents of a historic Munhall neighborhood where early steel industry executives built their homes hope a proposed ordinance will protect the architectural character of the neighborhood from new development.

Munhall council has called a special meeting for 5 p.m. tomorrow to consider that ordinance, requested by residents of Library Estates, the neighborhood near the historic Carnegie Library of Homestead.

The ordinance would expand an existing historic district to include the property where new homes are planned by Mon Valley Initiative, a nonprofit economic development coalition that is known for building “affordable housing” in Rankin, Braddock and Homestead.

But Doug Van Haitsma, housing and real estate director for the coalition, said expansion of an existing historic district should not affect coalition plans to build seven new four bedroom, 2.5 bath homes, which will be priced at $130,000 on the two-plus acres of vacant land between 11th and 12th Avenues, Louise and Andrew Streets.

“MVI believes our development will comply with the historic district and the borough code enforcement staff and council have stated the same,” Mr. Van Haitsma said.

By a 5-2 vote on Jan. 17, Munhall council approved a subdivision plan submitted by the coalition to build the new homes behind the library on a piece of vacant land that formerly was owned by the Homestead Economic Revitalization Corp.

Councilman Bernard Shields said that in approving the plan, council is only approving the subdividing of the property, not the types of homes that will be built there.

“That will come later,” Mr. Shields told residents who attended the meeting.

There’s been much confusion about the historic status of the neighborhood, which surrounds the old library, donated by industrialist Andrew Carnegie in 1898.

William Callahan, of the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission, has been trying to help sort it out for local officials.

At last week’s meeting, he explained that the area was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1990, a designation that marks properties worthy of historic preservation, but doesn’t protect them.

Some years later, the boroughs of Homestead, Munhall and West Homestead passed a jointly administered historic district ordinance under state Act 167 and created a Steel Valley Historical and Architectural Review Board.

Act 167 gives local municipalities the authority to manage changes to historic assets, Mr. Callahan said.

Last year, the Steel Valley Historic and Architectural Review Board recommended that the land where the new housing is proposed should be added to the existing historic district.

The issue has become a complicated political battle.

Mr. Van Haitsma said that the process of historic approval will take several months, but “borough ordinance does not prohibit us from getting building permits and beginning work before this process is completed,” he said.

Five homes will be sold to families earning up to 115 percent of the area median income and the other two will be sold to families earning up to 80 percent of the area income.

(Jan Ackerman can be reached at or 412-851-1512. )

This article appeared in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. © Pittsburgh Post Gazette

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