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Pittsburgh City Council is examining the role of community groups in development

Maggie Young
90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh City Council met Wednesday to discuss the city’s Registered Community Organization, or RCO, ordinance. Adopted in 2018, the law was meant to designate groups that could help residents have a say in nearby development.

In a pair of meetings on the topic, councilors and a number of speakers agreed that the intention behind the RCO law was good, but that implementation has been a mixed bag.

For starters, there are a series of eligibility requirements a group must meet in order to become an RCO, such as registering as an official nonprofit, or finding one to act as a sponsor. That can be exclusionary, said Karen Abrams, the director of Pittsburgh’s Department of City Planning.

“We've got to figure out how to make this program equitable for neighborhoods that really do need assistance but don't have it,” she said.

Even when a community group does have the capacity to act as an RCO — and can organize stakeholder input and share it with a developer and the city — that work can be disregarded in a project’s approvals process, said Marimba Milliones, president and CEO of the Hill Community Development Corporation.

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“The number one thing that the city can do to ensure that developers are respecting community voice is to enforce the power of that voice at the decision-making table,” said Milliones.

Most speakers at the hearing called for council to keep the RCO program, though some suggested ways to strengthen it. A few offered very detailed suggestions for how to improve the process, such as changing the timeline for required meetings.

Councilors said they are just beginning to dig into the issues involved with the ordinance, and will continue to invite community input.

In addition, the planning department has issued a survey to theexisting 38 RCOs, to learn what does and doesn’t work for them.