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Homewood, Point Breeze North Residents Push For Greater Involvement In Future Development

Margaret J. Krauss
90.5 WESA
A standing room only crowd filled a community room at Construction Junction on Thursday, Nov. 2 to weigh in on the future of a former industrial site in Point Breeze North.

Residents supported one another’s calls for affordable housing and a community-driven, transparent process in the development of a former industrial site in the Point Breeze North neighborhood at a public meeting in early November.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority is preparing to issue a request for proposals seeking potential buyers for Lexington Technology Park, the past home of manufacturing conglomerate Rockwell International Corporation. When URA staff asked the board to approve the release of an RFP, they did so with the caveat that a community meeting be held first.

“The input that you guys give us tonight will help us to better understand the needs and the wants of the community, and help our potential redevelopers craft their proposals,” the URA Real Estate Officer Julie Edwards told a crowd of more than 100 people as she began her presentation

Though technically located in Point Breeze North, the 16.5-acre site is bordered to the north by the Martin Luther King, Jr. Busway and is an intersection point for Homewood South and Homewood West. Several planning studies conducted in the area in recent years have acknowledged the neighborhoods’ connections and potential for developing together.

URA board member and Democratic State Rep. Ed Gainey said he felt in some ways development in East Liberty hadn’t been done properly, but that the community had an opportunity to correct that in Point Breeze North.

“Going forward, we can only be successful if we work together,” he said. “What do you want to see in your community in the next 20 years? That should not come from downtown, that should not come from an elected official. It should come from you the community.”

Residents expressed concern that development would increase property values to the point that they couldn’t afford to stay in their homes. Others asked that any residential development maintain green space and blend with the existing style of the neighborhood. One woman requested that development plans include protections for current businesses on the site; 850 to 900 people work in the two buildings remaining there.

After receiving development proposals, the URA will form a committee to review them. Typically, a review committee has representatives from City Council, the mayor’s office, URA staff, and a community representative. Several residents pushed for more community representation, particularly since any development would affect multiple neighborhoods. Point Breeze North is one of the city’s most diverse neighborhoods; many people stood up to say they were worried development would push people out and change that.

For too long, development has driven poor people out of neighborhoods, said Mel Packer of Pittsburghers for Public Transit.

“We have destroyed affordable housing,” he said. “We have the chance here to develop a model community of mixed housing.”

But housing could be a long way off. Because of its manufacturing past, Lexington Technology Park is considered environmentally contaminated by the state, disallowing residential construction.

In order to build housing, the site would have to be officially subdivided into two parcels: the North Homewood Avenue parcel and the North Lexington Avenue parcel, where most of the actual manufacturing took place. The developer would then have to petition the state to remove the housing restriction on the North Homewood parcel.

As the meeting came to a close, Homewood resident Milford Frye turned to his fellow audience members.

“Tell your people to be at these meetings,” he said. “To participate. And demand that your voices be heard.”

The URA committed to holding another meeting in Homewood. Through Friday, Nov. 10, anyone interested in providing input regarding Lexington Technology Park can leave a comment on a Google doc set up by the URA.

The authority hopes to issue an RFP by early 2018.