Residents of Homewood and North Point Breeze have requested the Urban Redevelopment Authority postpone its search for development proposals for a former industrial site between the two neighborhoods.
People are eager to see development of the 16.5-acre Lexington Technology Park, which sits adjacent to the Martin Luther King Jr. East Busway, but they want a role in guiding it. A review committee to vet development proposals will include three community representatives: two from the North Point Breeze Development Corporation and one from the Homewood Community Development Collaborative.
But there was miscommunication within community groups and with the URA about what information would be shared when, and how, said South Point Breeze resident Mel Packer, and it would be good to clear that up before a request for proposals goes out.
“I don’t think there’s bad intentions, I don’t think anybody’s deliberately withholding information. But this is a process that concerns the entire community and the entire community wants to know about it,” he said. “That’s reasonable.”
During the course of a community meeting Thursday night, residents stressed their concerns about transparency as the development process moved forward. In particular, people worried about how developers will be required to respond to community input.
“That’s our intent with our engagement process,” said the URA community coordinator Julie Edwards, after a review of the agency’s process for developing and transferring land. “We want the developers and the community to talk. We want our developers to understand community needs.”
There were questions about how the project could create jobs for the community, the anticipated uses for the site, and if the Port Authority of Allegheny County will be been involved to ensure good access to the Homewood Station on the East Busway.
While Keith McBroom thinks communication between the communities and the URA is improving, he’s concerned the URA isn’t thinking big enough. Because of environmental contamination, there are limits on how the land can be used. McBroom said if a developer really invested in cleanup, more land could be salvaged for housing.
“I think that they could do some more with that site,” he said. “Someone needs to do the research. Don’t just tell me, ‘Oh I hired a consulting firm, this is what they found out.’ Do a little more research, dig a little deeper.”
As it stands now, only a quarter of the site could be used for housing, and even that would have to be approved by the state’s Department of Environmental Protection.
Edwards and Project Manager Emily Mitchell said they would take residents’ request to postpone the RFP back to the URA for consideration.
At the communities’ request, the URA has held or attended monthly public meetings on the project, and will continue to do so.