Pittsburgh planners approve proposal for East Liberty
Pittsburgh planners narrowly approved a proposal Tuesday to rezone about 9 acres in East Liberty, including Penn Plaza Apartments and a popular neighborhood park, for commercial and residential development despite heated opposition from residents.
Pennley Park South Inc., a subsidiary of Downtown developer LG Realty Advisors, wants to raze the apartment buildings and replace them with a mixed development that could use the existing Enright Parklet. Nearly two dozen residents spoke out against that possibility and complained that developers haven’t sought their input.
“I spend almost as much time there (at the park) as I do at home. It’s kind of my childhood,” Kai Roth-Bamberg, 7, said at the crowded Planning Commission meeting.
Jonathan Kamin, an attorney for Pennley Park South, described the 4-3 vote on the rezoning request as the first step in a lengthy planning process that will include community meetings and other opportunities for residents to offer input.
“This is just the beginning,” Kamin said.
The city-owned, 2-acre park became a bargaining chip in an agreement reached last month among the city, its Urban Redevelopment Authority, Pennley Park South and the Penn Plaza Tenant Council to help relocate 200 families who would be displaced by Penn Plaza’s demolition. The deal aims to create more affordable housing in the East Liberty area, where property values are soaring because of explosive development.
The agreement came on the heels of LG Realty Advisors sending eviction notices in July to Penn Plaza residents, including elderly and lower-income tenants, giving them 90 days to move out. The city got a 60-day delay.
“The park is important, but the people who live on this (Penn Plaza Apartments) site are what I consider to be most important,” said URA Chairman Kevin Acklin, who is Mayor Bill Peduto’s chief of staff.
Under the rezoning proposal OK’d by city planners, any development plan for the land must include at least the same amount of “public open space and public amenities.” Acklin said.
The developers are required to explain how community input shaped their plans, which must be approved by the Planning Commission.
“It’s not good enough to take something that’s the heart and soul of the quality of life of residents and pit it against (the needs of) another set of residents. It’s not good enough to do the right thing for the Penn Plaza residents and the wrong thing for other residents of the neighborhood who love their park,” said Planning Commissioner Sabina Deitrick, who opposed the rezoning request with Fred Brown and Julie Butcher Pezzino.
Commission Chairwoman Christine Mondor voted in favor with LaShawn Burton-Faulk, Dina Blackwell and Holly Dick.
“The only thing that (reassures me) is that (the project) doesn’t happen for you until it goes through us. And it doesn’t happen through us until it happens through them,” Mondor said, referring to residents.
Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7847 or [email protected].