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Redevelopment in limbo for Homestead’s old business district

By Jim Hosek,
Tri-State Sports & News Service
Pittsburgh Post Gazette
Wednesday, November 20, 2002

The Redevelopment Authority of Allegheny County is prepared to move quickly on a $3 million redevelopment plan for what some refer to as the “forgotten Homestead,” the old business district. But the plan was dealt a severe blow.

After a unanimous council told county officials at a public hearing Thursday that it wanted to exclude eminent-domain takeover of viable businesses that pay taxes, the county’s Lee Mueller told council, “You can’t amend. You have to approve or deny as submitted.”

“We’d have to start the entire process over,” the county’s Mark Patrick said, adding that it took four years to get to this point.

Council, nonetheless, voted 9-0 to table the plan and send a letter to the authority listing the properties it doesn’t want threatened by eminent domain.

That action followed two hours of comments about the plan, which includes 39 properties — 18 structures including businesses and 21 vacant lots — to be taken over. Mueller said $1.7 million would be used for acquiring properties, $220,000 for the relocation of businesses and residents, $430,000 for demolition of buildings and $630,000 for site improvements.

Council President Evan Baker said he and the rest of council wanted to see an amended plan go through quickly. “We’re trying to create an environment to get people to come to this side of the [railroad] tracks. People habitually ignore that area when going to and from The Waterfront.”

Elisa Cavalier, general counsel of the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation, called the plan “an egregious error.” She said the county should not be taking away viable businesses when “you have no idea what will go into this site.”

Jim Laux said he would lose two businesses and other property on and near Sixth Avenue.

“This is a slap in the face. This doesn’t make sense,” he said, adding that he has waited years for his area to improve. “I just don’t want to be the one to go. You’re throwing out people who have stayed with the borough in bad times.”

“Replace my business with what and when?” asked George DeBolt, president of DeBolt Unlimited Travel Services.

He said his family’s business has been in Homestead for more than 100 years. “Against the odds, we stayed. This is our home. It’s a good place to do business.”

Main Street manager Steve Paul said the executive board of the Homestead area Economic Revitalization Corp. agreed that council should amend the plan to take out eminent domain takeover. Also voicing that sentiment were borough planning commissioners Lloyd Cunningham and Donna Mima.

Business people Larry Levine, Kitty Lesko and David Lewis said they backed the plan, adding that they believed Laux and DeBolt could be accommodated.

“Those properties are not set in stone [for eminent domain takeover],” Patrick said. “I can assure you we will not act arbitrarily. … We’re not trying to take anyone out of business.”

He said county officials would talk with DeBolt and Laux about their properties, but he didn’t guarantee what the results might be. He said although the county would consult with council before using eminent domain on a particular property, the county wouldn’t need council’s approval, if council OK’d the plan as presented.

“I’m not voting on this until I know exactly which businesses will be taken. Take out the viable businesses and those who paid taxes,” Councilwoman Joan DeSimone said, and the rest of council agreed.

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

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