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New eminent domain law will help renewal effort

By Ron DaParma
Sunday, May 21, 2006

Urban renewal efforts have been good and bad, but Arthur P. Ziegler Jr. of the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation believes there’s now hope for more of the good because the state has adopted a law governing the taking of private property for renewal.

Ziegler, president of the South Side-based preservationist organization, applauded when the Legislature passed and Gov. Ed Rendell this month signed two companion bills designed to clarify the state’s eminent domain law.

“We would like to see people protected from use of eminent domain,” said Ziegler. “We have seen it used or threatened frequently here, and some of the results have been negative.”

As examples, he points to efforts in the 1950s and 1960s that he calls some of the “worst cases of urban renewal we have seen.”

Those include efforts to revitalize the city’s Lower Hill District (the area near Mellon Arena), the development of Allegheny Center on the North Side, and the “Circle” in East Liberty — a project that diverted most vehicular traffic from the main Penn Avenue business district.

“And of course, the threat of it was used by the administration (of Mayor Tom Murphy) in various instances, including when he was developing plans for the Fifth-Forbes business district,” Ziegler said.

“This bill protects the rights of property owners above all other interests,” said Rendell. “Eminent domain should be used in a community’s best interests, not the specialized interests of a few.”

One section of the legislation amends the state’s eminent domain code by prohibiting, with some exceptions, an agency’s ability to take private property in order to use it for private enterprise.

It provides standards that single, blighted properties must meet before being taken by eminent domain. It also extends the criteria to include properties that are unmarketable, pose environmentally hazardous conditions, or have multiple instances of blight. Multiple properties can be taken by eminent domain if they also meet geographic conditions related to a blighted area.

The new law also says no political subdivision can use eminent domain authority against land in another municipality without the approval of the other political subdivision. It also outlines land condemnation procedures.

Real estate notes:

Permits were issued for 291 multifamily housing units in the first quarter of 2006 in the seven-county Pittsburgh area, more than double the 124 issued for the same period last year, the U.S. Census Bureau said. There also were 1,097 permits issued for single-family houses compared to 903 for the same period last year.

New office tenants in the Omni William Penn, Downtown, are the law firms of Phelan Hallinan & Schmieg, and O’Brien, Rulis, Bochicchio & Sosso, along with the investment management firm of Cookson, Peirce & Co. Inc., said Jim Jarrett, vice president, GVA Oxford, whose firm handled the leases.

Recent financing arranged by Daniel P. Puntil and Jeffrey W. Keating of LaureateCapital’s Pittsburgh office include $9.8 million for Leetsdale Industrial Park and $5.4 million for One Alexander Center, Harmar.

Electronic recording of mortgages and mortgage assignments is available at the Allegheny County Recorder of Deeds office. The system, through a secure network, allows documents to be received in the Recorder’s office, recorded and electronically returned to the submitter within minutes. Normal fees are paid by the submitter, either electronically or by mail or personal presentation. Plans call for electronic recording of mortgage satisfactions and, eventually, deeds. The system is also available in Westmoreland, Philadelphia, Chester and Lancaster counties.

Next Level Purchasing Inc. has moved its headquarters into 1315 Coraopolis Heights Road, Moon Township.

School Facility Development Inc., whose offices are at 24 S. 18th St., South Side, has purchased an office building at 1631 Monroeville Ave., Turtle Creek, for $1.55 million from Errol S. and Linda Abdulla, according to a deed filed with the Allegheny County Recorder of Deeds.

David Stoehr of Stoehr Development Inc. wants the state to provide $2.5 million in grants to clean up the 17-acre Fort Bridge property in Canonsburg, where he wants to develop the $23 million Fort Pitt Industrial Park. Stoehr wants to demolish 400,000 square feet of heavy industrial facilities by the end of 2006 and put up six buildings. The project has received a $130,000 state planning grant. Stoehr developed Meadow Lands Industrial Park, also in Washington County.

Gannett Fleming’s Youghiogheny Reservoir Alternate Steel Bridge won the Association for Bridge Construction and Design, Susquehanna Chapter Award in the Outstanding New Multi-Span Bridge category. Located in Fayette and Somerset counties, the bridge features spans exceeding 230 feet.

The second House to Home Fireplace & Pool Shoppe in the region has opened at 100 McClure Rd., Monroeville, said owner Walter Sedlock, who opened the first in Jeannette.

Sam Spatter contributed to this report.
Ron DaParma can be reached at or 412-320-7907.

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

100 West Station Square Drive, Suite 450

Pittsburgh, PA 15219

Phone: 412-471-5808  |  Fax: 412-471-1633