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How Development At Penn Plaza Is Expected To Fund Affordable Housing

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Joaquin Gonzalez
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90.5 WESA
In June a demolition crew razed the last Penn Plaza apartments, which had been home to mostly elderly and low-income residents. The site’s future had been the subject of bitter disputes between the city, the community, and developer Pennley Park South.";

Over the next three to five years, more than 200 affordably priced apartments and homes could be built in East Liberty and Garfield as a result of the negotiations surrounding the demolition of Penn Plaza, according to Rick Swartz, executive director of the Bloomfield Garfield Corporation.

BGC was one of four neighborhood groups party to a consent agreement signed Oct. 27. That document resolved the litigation between the city, developer Pennley Park South, an affiliate of LG Realty Advisors, and BGC, East Liberty Development, Inc., Friendship Community Group, and the Enright Park Neighborhood Association. The agreement also set guidelines for the site’s development, preservation of open space, and affordable housing.

“We are not taking it as a given that everybody is going to be pleased with what emerged from the consent agreement,” said Swartz. “There’s still a lot of anger and a lot of hurt over how Penn Plaza unfolded.”

But hopefully other projects will acknowledge there’s a role for everyone - developers, the government, and the community - said Jon Pushinsky, one of the lawyers representing the neighborhood groups.

“Recognizing that each other’s concerns have legitimacy so that one side’s not necessarily asking the other side to relinquish all of its concerns,” he said. “Trying to work together to figure out how everybody’s legitimate concerns can be protected in a resolution.”

While affordable housing is not presently planned for the Penn Plaza site, Swartz said the neighborhood groups have identified five potential locations for affordable housing within 1 mile: Mellons Orchard South, Mellons Orchard North, a former synagogue on N. Negley Avenue and two parcels of vacant land in Garfield.

Those units will be “offered both to the residents who lived at Penn Plaza and to others looking who are looking to stay in the East End,” said Swartz.

Money to help finance those projects will come from tax revenue generated by development at Penn Plaza, using a Transit Revitalization Investment District or TRID plan.

Development is projected to generate $10 million of TRID money. Half will go into a fund called “the East End Housing Regeneration Account,” with up to $1 million dedicated to the improvement of the Enright Park, which will be no less than 2.28 acres. The other half of the money will go to Pennley Park South for things such as infrastructure or road repairs.

Before any of that can happen, two public meetings will be held to discuss the amended Preliminary Land Development Plan (PLDP). Any feedback from the first must be incorporated into the second, according to the consent agreement. Then Pennley Park South’s PLDP must be approved by the Planning Commission.

The public meetings have not yet been scheduled, but within the next ten days they should be announced, according to the timing set out by the consent agreement.

Margaret J. Krauss is WESA’s senior reporter. She covers development and transportation, and has produced award-winning podcasts on housing, work, and Pittsburgh’s lesser-known history. Before joining the newsroom full time, she covered the challenges facing Pennsylvania cities as a statewide reporter, and spent another life as an assistant editor for National Geographic Kids Magazine in Washington, D.C. She can be reached at mkrauss@wesa.fm.
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