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Community Groups Say The City Has Failed To Keep Its Promises With The Penn Plaza Site

90.5 WESA
The former Penn Plaza site has been empty since 2017.

Pittsburgh City Council on Wednesday advanced a land swap between the city and the developers of the former Penn Plaza site in East Liberty. 

The legislation satisfies a legal agreement reached in 2015, but community groups say the city has failed to work with them on the new Enright Parklet and an affordable housing fund, also part of that binding consent order.

Signed in October 2017, the consent order of court settled a number of lawsuits over the site. After hundreds of hours of mediation, all parties — site owner Pennley Park South, an affiliate of LG Realty Advisors, the city, Friendship Community Group, the Bloomfield Garfield Corporation, the Enright Park Neighborhood Association, and a number of individuals —  agreed to advance the development under a set of new guidelines. The consent order covered everything from public meetings to the land swap to the extension of a tax diversion boundary.

“We believe that we have lived up to our end of the consent order, the developer LG Realty has lived up to their end of the consent order,” said Jennifer Haven, speaking for the Friendship Community Group at Wednesday’s standing committee meeting. “We believe that the city has failed” to do so.

While the city has advanced the land swap, it has not worked with the community groups to “plan the programming and amenities” in the reconfigured Enright Parklet, said Haven.

companion bill to the land swap would allow the city to accept an easement to open a private road to the public. Though not mentioned in the consent order, the details of the easement could greatly impact access to the park, and the public should see it before council votes, said Haven. Council members were promised they would see the language of the easement before a public hearing on Monday.

Lastly, in the same paragraph as the land swap, the consent order calls on the city to extend a tax diversion zone in order to fund affordable housing. That also has not been done.

“We’re not asking for the development itself to be delayed,” said Rick Swartz, executive director for the Bloomfield Garfield Corporation. “We’re only asking for the city to now begin fulfilling the commitments that it made back in October 2017.”

After hearing public comment from Haven, Councilor Ricky Burgess attributed community concerns to paranoia and described them as “nonsensical in many ways.”

“From the beginning, some of this discussion has just been a smokescreen for them not wanting the development to occur,” he said. “And trying to do everything in their power to make this as difficult as possible for the development to occur, because they didn’t like it and they don’t want it.”

From its introduction, the land swap and easement legislation has moved faster than many other bills. Members at first voted to suspend normal rules in order to allow discussion of the proposed actions sooner than eight days. While they then voted to hold for discussion, returning the bills to a regular progression, council members scheduled a public hearing on the issue the day before they will take their final vote.