Archive

ShareThis Page
‘Blighted’ land in Frick Park targeted for homes | TribLIVE.com
News

‘Blighted’ land in Frick Park targeted for homes

The tidy lawns and tony homes of Summerset at Frick Park are far from Pittsburgh’s economically depressed neighborhoods.

Yet, members of the city Planning Commission this month voted to designate a largely vacant 176-acre portion of the otherwise high-end Squirrel Hill housing plan as “blighted property.”

“The term blight is the wrong term,” said Todd Reidbord, the Planning Commission’s vice chairman, who voted in favor of the designation. “I think it’s really an area in need of redevelopment.”

Urban Redevelopment Authority officials say they’re ready to expand what its widely viewed as the authority’s most successful housing development built with a mix of public and private money.

Since 2001, 256 homes have been built in two phases on a reclaimed 244-acre slag heap that overlooks the Parkway East near the Squirrel Hill Tunnel. The next two-part phase is expected to add 256 homes for sale and a 30,000-square-foot commercial building along Browns Hill Road.

A third, final phase would add 217 homes, taking the total to 729.

Work on the next expansion could begin early next year if the URA can obtain permission to offer subsidies to developers through tax-increment financing — a special tax district in which the city, county and school district agree to collect about 65 percent of taxes owed to them over 20 years.

The three taxing bodies would receive about $1.6 million a year in real estate taxes once the homes are built. The tax deferral would generate about $25 million over its two-decade term. The money would be used as leverage to obtain an $11 million PENNVEST Brownfields loan.

The tax-increment financing is necessary because the URA doesn’t expect to receive more subsidies from the state’s Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program, which has given $17.5 million to develop Summerset, said Tom Cummings, URA director of housing.

“The public bore a lot of the up-front costs to get it started,” Cummings said.

“Over time, more of the responsibility has shifted to the developer,” he said. “I think it’s in recognition of the fact that this development has been successful.”

But public subsidies remain to support a development in which houses sell for between $298,000 and $625,000.

In addition to the tax-increment financing, Cummings said the URA is loaning Summerset Land Development Associates, headed by North Shore-based The Rubinoff Company, $2 million at a 4 percent interest rate.

Rubinoff will repay the URA — and a separate loan from First Niagara Bank — by selling the lots to home builders.

Cummings said the tax-increment district is the only way to complete the development, which has attracted dozens of new residents to the city and is being credited with raising property values in nearby sections of Squirrel Hill and Swisshelm Park.

It offers a side benefit of “capping” a large portion of the slag heap with houses, Cummings said. The URA is responsible for preventing slag from leeching into Nine Mile Run, a stream that runs through the middle of the development.

Slag can make the water too alkaline, which can hurt fish habitats, said Brenda Smith, executive director of the Nine Mile Run Watershed Association.

“We’re in favor of completing phase three because that area, which is a remote deserted area, is frequented by illegal ATV riders,” she said.


TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.