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Politics & Government

2016 City Council Preview: Gross, O’Connor And Kail-Smith On Managing Growth

Liz Reid
90.5 WESA

This is the first in a three-part web series looking ahead to 2016 with members of Pittsburgh City Council.

As Pittsburgh continues receiving glowing attention from the national press, there’s no denying that the pace of development in the Steel City is quickening.

In the East End, a flurry of development activity has raised the specter of gentrification, while the West End is just beginning to see some of the benefits of the city’s economic renaissance. Here, we take a look at three different City Council districts which, together, council members have argued are emblematic of development trends in Pittsburgh.

Councilwoman Deb Gross

District 7: Bloomfield, Friendship, Highland Park, Stanton Heights, Morningside, Lawrenceville, Polish Hill, Strip District

Gross said she keeps a spreadsheet of developments in her district, and that projects either under construction or in the planning stages now total more than $1 billion.

She said the district is “almost overwhelmed” by the pace of development.

Credit Courtesy Oxford Development Company
A 2014 rendering of Three Crossings from Oxford Development. Tenants began moving into the luxury apartments in the Strip District in late summer 2015.

“There’s a lot of stress,” she said. “We’ve been talking about managing growth for two years, and now we’ve really got our sleeves rolled up on what that means and how we want to build the neighborhoods that we all want to live with for a very long time.”

Gross said the challenge is getting outside developers to partner with current residents to create neighborhoods that serve everyone.

“Neighborhoods that are inclusive that have the amenities for young and old, for people in different places on the income spectrum,” she said. “We talk about affordable housing, we talk about locally-owned businesses, we talk about safe streets, streets that are safe for 8-year-olds and 80-year-olds, we talk about food quality and access, about quality child care.”

Councilman Corey O’Connor

District 5: Greenfield, Glen Hazel, Hays, Hazelwood, Lincoln Place, New Homestead, Regent Square, Squirrel Hill, Swisshelm Park, Schenley Park, Frick Park

As a member of the Alcosan board of directors, O’Connor said he spends a lot of time thinking about stormwater management. He said the city needs to find better ways to incentivize the use of green infrastructure like permeable pavement, rain gardens and living roofs to complement Alcosan’s $3.5 billion wet weather plan.

“If we can entice more and more — not just residents, but commercial districts and new development that come in — to incorporate green infrastructure, it’s going to be less of a burden on our system,” he said.

One of the biggest new development opportunities for incorporating green infrastructure will be in O’Connor’s district, with the Almono site development.

Credit Courtesy Rothschild Dyno Collaborative
A preliminary rendering of the Almono site development plan.

The effort to transform the former industrial site began in 2002, just five years after LTV Steel shut its doors. The 178-acre former mill was projected in 2013 to one day include residences, office buildings, retail and green space.

Neighbors have pressured O'Connor and city administrators to consider future effects on nearby residents, most recently with regard to a potential transit line connecting Almono with Oakland. O'Connor has acknowledged that community buy-in will be key to the success of one of the largest developments in recent Pittsburgh history.

Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith

District 2: Fairywood, Windgap, Sheraden, Chartiers City, Westwood, South Shore, West End, Ridgemont, Banksville, Crafton Heights, Duquesne Heights, East Carnegie, Elliott, Esplen, Mt. Washington, Oakwood

Kail-Smith said, to her knowledge, the last major development in the West End was Parkway Center Mall in 1982, which closed in 2013. But she said interest in the long-ignored community is growing: Amazon will soon open a distribution center in Fairywood and a Comfort Inn and Suites just opened in Banksville.

“We’re very excited that finally people are recognizing the value of building in the West End,” she said. “They’re recognizing that we have quick access and affordable housing and affordable commercial property as well.”

Kail-Smith said she is especially excited about a new Family Dollar in Sheraden that’s slated to open in 2016.

In front of the store, the developer is building an open-air pavilion for a farmer’s market, which students at nearby Pittsburgh Public Schools' Langley K-8 will help supply with produce.

“We are partnering with them to use the horticulture department at Langley, and (the students) will grow the produce," Kail-Smith said. "They will harvest the produce, and they will work with the community on selling the items at the open-air market. That money goes back into the community for additional projects.”

Kail-Smith said she also looks forward to seeing shuttered school buildings put to good use.

The Pittsburgh Spice Company will take over one in Crafton Heights, while the Associated Master Plumbers of Allegheny County have plans for one in Sheraden. She said she is also in talks with Mayor Bill Peduto’s administration about the possibility of housing a new police training facility in an old school building in Elliott.

The West End got its first Community Development Corporation, the Southwest Pittsburgh CDC, this year, and Kail-Smith said in 2016 the group will working with a marketing firm to bring even more attention to the neighborhoods. She is also pushing for the creation of a District 2 Chamber of Commerce, and a new arts committee will plan art projects and cultural events.