The Urban Redevelopment Authority voted Thursday to postpone hiring a consultant to help create a comprehensive plan that would identify the Hill District’s needs.
The decision concerns residents who are worried that the public could be left out of the decision-making process for the 28-acre area surrounding the new Consol Energy Center — home to the Penguins, beginning next season. A community-benefits agreement — negotiated as part of the $300 million arena’s financing — promised to address the neighborhood’s needs.
Pittsburgh City Councilwoman Tonya Payne, a URA board member, said she supports the delay because of doubts about whether CHPlanning Ltd. of Philadelphia could do the job.
“I’d rather wait a month and make more of an informed decision than make a decision knowing absolutely nothing,” said Payne, whose council district includes the Hill. “People worked hard for the (benefits agreement), and I’m one of them. I want to make sure it’s right and representative of what the community wants to happen.”
Carl Redwood, chairman of OneHill — a coalition of community groups and businesses that negotiated the agreement for the neighborhood — criticized the URA’s decision.
“They’re going completely against the community process, but politicians frequently ignore the community process,” he said.
If a plan for the neighborhood isn’t ready before February, the Penguins could submit plans to the city’s Planning Department without public approval.
The Hill District Master Plan Steering Committee, a group of state and local officials and community representatives including Redwood, gave preliminary approval in June to hire CHPlanning to guide the process. The URA received bids from 25 planning firms from across the country. Entering into a contract requires the URA’s approval.
Redwood said his committee plans to move forward, even without a consultant.
“It’s a setback in one sense, but what they’re doing is not stopping things,” he said.
The community-benefits agreement guarantees money to develop a grocery store and gives Hill residents the first opportunity for jobs created around the arena.