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2017 City Council Preview: Equitable Development In The Midst Of Urban Reinvention

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA

This is the second in a three-part web series looking ahead to 2017 with members of Pittsburgh City Council. Find part one here.

Council members Deb Gross, Corey O’Connor and Daniel Lavelle represent three very different districts, but the issue of equitable development looms large for each of them. 

For Gross, it’s figuring out how to keep gentrification in check in neighborhoods that are rapidly transforming. Lavelle is pushing for more affordable housing in his district, amid continued delays of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ plans to redevelop the former Civic Arena site near PPG Paints Arena. And O’Connor is looking for ways to tie one of the largest mixed-use developments in Pittsburgh history into the existing neighborhood.

Councilwoman Deb Gross

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

Gross’s district includes some of the fastest growing residential neighborhoods in the city: Lawrenceville and the Strip District. Home prices in Lawrenceville have skyrocketed over the last several years; homes now regularly list for $500,000 or more.

In the Strip District, Gross said 2,000 luxury condominiums or apartments have either been added in the last few years or are in the pipeline to be built in coming years. In addition, she said 1,000 offices have been added in the area. So much rapid construction has transformed the role of the produce terminal, which has been slated for redevelopment for years.

Credit Noah Brode / 90.5 WESA
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The produce terminal in the Strip District is more than 1500 feet long.

“Several years ago it was seen as the kind of front runner that would catalyze development in the Strip,” Gross said. “Right now it’s almost like a safeguard. We have this building here (and) we can tweak this plan to see what the best fit is.”

The councilwoman is pushing for locally-owned retailers and restaurants to be included among the tenants at the multi-use development, which is slated to include retail space, offices and apartments.

Gross said in 2016, City Council “really started to take seriously” how to create a city that is livable for all Pittsburghers, and pointed to efforts to address a lack of affordable housing, gender disparities in the city and the creation of the Office of Early Childhood in the Mayor’s office, which came out of Council action in late 2015.

She also lauded the passage of the complete streets plan in November, which seeks to make streets safer and more accessible for pedestrians, cyclists, public transit users and drivers.

“In my district, we have people in competition with cars and that is not OK,” Gross said. “The people will always be on the losing end of a conflict between a person and a car.”

As a member of the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority board of directors, the councilwoman said she is also concerned about old lead pipes that can contaminate residents’ tap water.

She said many Pittsburgh residents cannot afford to replace lead service lines, and that state law does not allow the city to step in.

“The state legislature will not allow PWSA to replace the line … from your house to the sidewalk, because it’s on your property and not public property,” she said. “That is a barrier to remediating this problem.”

Councilman Corey O'Connor

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

Pittsburgh City Councilman Corey O’Connor said he’ll continue to prioritize community driven development throughout the city and especially in his district in 2017. The largest ongoing development in the city is in his district – the former Almono site in Hazelwood.

Uber signed on to expand its operation to the former coke works site in February. It was the first company to pledge partnership in the plan to redevelop nearly 178 acres of riverfront land on Second Avenue.

Uber is using the location as a testing site for its self-driving cars. The developer of the site has called it “ground zero” for new tech companies. The first phase of development will preserve the steel skeleton of Mill 19 – one of the three existing structures on site – and refurbish the inside as a set of energy efficient buildings.

Credit Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA
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The former Homestead Coke Works site will cost about $1 billion to redevelop into a hub for new tech companies.

O’Connor said nabbing Uber shows other companies that the environmentally contaminated site is viable. But, he said a challenge for the development moving forward will be to blend the development with the neighborhood across from Second Avenue.

He said the goal is to get to the point where it is no longer called the “Almono site” but rather, just Hazelwood.

“The community has to be involved and that site has to be blended into the neighborhood,” he said.

One way he’s pushing for that to happen is to ensure development doesn’t stop at the Almono site. AFrench bakery with a location in Lawrenceville is expected to open a second location in Hazelwood in January and a former market will open as a community kitchen in the beginning of the year, O’Connor said.

“So we’re starting to show development on Second Avenue which is really important because when businesses start moving into that (Almono) site, we want them to funnel into Hazelwood and into Second Avenue, because that’s going to be the heart of that business district and that site,” he said.

Also in his district, O’Connor said he looks forward to the completion of the Greenfield Bridge in the summer of 2017. The bridge was imploded earlier this year for a complete rebuild. In that neighborhood he will also prioritize managing storm water runoff.

“It's really important to us because those neighbors see flooding constantly in the spring and summer months when there is a lot of rain,” he said. “Our goal is going to be to finalize a plan which we are underway with engineers out there doing the work to see where we can get the biggest bang out of our buck using green infrastructure throughout the park to solve the flooding problem in the run. That's a very important project to us.”

O’Connor chairs the Parks and Recreation department and said one of his goals for the next year is to develop more youth programming.

Councilman Daniel Lavelle

District 6: Perry Hilltop, Hill District, Uptown, Downtown, Oakland, Chateau, Manchester 

Pittsburgh City Councilman Daniel Lavelle said he will introduce legislation in 2017 that will entice developers to hire local labor – especially in rapidly developing neighborhoods.  

We need to ensure that subsidized projects are actually hiring people locally and putting them to work and those most in need are being trained for those jobs and given the opportunity to benefit from that economic development,” he said.

Lavelle represents the Hill District where the Pittsburgh Penguins plan to redevelop the site of the former Civic Arena. That area next to PPG Paints Arena is now used for parking. In December the Urban Redevelopment Authority authorized paying for an environmental study of the land in an effort to speed up the project.

The councilman said he is hopeful construction will start on the site in 2017.

Lavelle said he counts the passage of the Housing Opportunity Fund as his greatest achievement for the city in 2016. The legislation was a proposal from the Affordable Housing Taskforce.

He said the fund with help long-term residents stay in the neighborhoods even as property values rise. The city’s Urban Redevelopment Authority will manage the fund working with landlords and homeowners in order to keep housing affordable.

Preserving the city’s existing homes is half of his plan to combat what he deems to be the city’s housing crisis.

“So when you go into parts of the West End or even in parts of my district on the North Side, what you will see are vacant properties that with an additional capitalization of resources we could fix up we could get individuals in there with decent rents or we could target them for affordable homeownership opportunities,” he said.

Lavelle said he expects to identify a funding source for the fund in the first quarter of 2017. 

Liz Reid began working at WESA in 2013 as a general assignment reporter and weekend host. Since then, she’s worked as the Morning Edition producer, health & science reporter and as an editor.
Sarah Schneider is WESA's education reporter. From early learning to higher education, Sarah is interested in students and educators working to create more equitable systems. Sarah previously worked with news outlets in Pennsylvania, Illinois and Idaho. She is a graduate of Southern Illinois University Carbondale where she worked for the school newspaper, the Daily Egyptian.
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