Penn Plaza Rezoning Proposal Heads To City Council, Neighbors Call For Public Hearing To Save Park

Nov 30, 2015

This whale-shaped fountain at Enright Parklet got a much needed facelift from some neighborhood kids, who spearheaded their own painting party last summer.
Credit Jason Roth / Save Enright Parklet community group

East Liberty residents are calling for a public hearing on the future of Enright Parklet after the Pittsburgh Planning Commission voted last month to rezone the park and the adjacent property on which currently sits the Penn Plaza apartment complex.

The owners of the 312-unit residential housing complex, LG Realty Advisors, have plans to transform the site into a mixed-use development and came under fire earlier this year when they served residents with 90-day eviction notices. Once Mayor Bill Peduto and Chief of Staff Kevin Acklin got involved, LG Realty founder and CEO Lawrence Gumberg agreed to temporarily halt the evictions, provide financial assistance to tenants for relocation expenses and to build low-income housing in the future.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported after the planning commission meeting that the potential sale of the park to LG was “leverage” for reaching that agreement.

But Angelique Bamberg, who lives near Enright Parklet, said the public should have been engaged in an open discussion before the park was put on the table as a bargaining chip.

“We are seeking a halt to any further action on rezoning or transferring the park until we’ve had a chance to hold an open, public planning process that engages all of the stakeholders,” she said.

A bill to rezone the two parcels of land was introduced in Pittsburgh City Council last week and will come up for discussion in council’s committee meeting Tuesday. Council typically holds public hearings for rezoning bills, but Bamberg said they are submitting a petition to specifically request a public hearing “to cover our bases.”

Bamberg said the mayor’s office has been “very forthcoming” with the group of concerned neighbors, and she is still hopeful that the park could be preserved as public space.

“A lot of these residents live in apartments, so they don’t have their own yards to be outside, and there’s very little public green space in East Liberty compared to other neighborhoods,” she said. “We are a good half-hour (walk) away from Highland Park, and that’s not really walking distance for a family with small children or the people from the nursing home across the street that use Enright Parklet regularly.”

Bamberg said issues surrounding the two-acre park are indicative of a larger concern. As the pace of development in East Liberty intensifies, Bamberg said she wants to ensure that the ways in which current residents use public streets and parks are taken into account, and that affordable housing is maintained.

“We think there’s a real system here that exists and has the potential to be destabilized by all the really rapid and disorienting development that’s happening in East Liberty,” she said.

The Peduto administration, the Urban Redevelopment Authority and LG Realty legal counsel Jon Kamin and Councilman Ricky Burgess, who represents that portion of East Liberty, did not respond to requests for comment.