Sunday, October 23, 2016

Enright Community Garden 2.0: Reboot for 2017 Growing Season

Enright Park Community Garden & Park Clean-up 
and Planning Session

Join neighbors, community members, and garden enthusiasts for a fall clean-up and planning session on Sunday, November 6 from 10 am to 2 pm. Bring your own lunch, but drinks and dessert will be provided!

Our park and our garden are undergoing major transformation! As you may know, the owner of Penn Plaza (the affordable housing near the park) has announced and initiated plans to demolish the housing and build a new Whole Foods, with market-rate housing and office space above. In addition to the loss of over 200 units of affordable housing, which has displaced many long-term East Liberty residents and community members, the project includes reconfiguration of the public park and major impacts on the adjacent residential neighborhood.

At the same time, Whole Foods, which has been a partner and major supporter of the garden for the past 8 years, is refocusing their efforts and will no longer provide garden management and support.

It's time for us to reinvent ourselves as a communal garden for East Liberty, and to define the future of our public park! 
(Fortunately, East Liberty Development Inc. owns the garden site and supports the community's efforts to shape its future.)

So please join us to put the garden to sleep for the winter, plan for its future, and participate in the conversation about what is happening at Enright Park and in East Liberty as a whole!

Sunday, November 6 from 10 am - 2 pm
Rain Date: Sunday, November 13, 10 am - 2 pm

Watch the Facebook page (Enright Community Garden) or Twitter (@enrightpark) for weather updates!

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Draft Preliminary Land Development Plan!

It's the moment everyone has been waiting for: the draft of the Preliminary Land Development Plan (PLDP) has been filed with the City and is available for review!

You can download a copy here.

For those who are not total zoning nerds (or former City Planning interns):

The Preliminary Land Development Plan (PLDP) is the technical document required under the City of Pittsburgh Zoning Code for large development areas. The PLDP establishes a set of requirements for accomplishing the Vision of the project and the conditions outlined in the Special Plan District (SPD) zoning. The PLDP includes sections identified as Regulating Plans which describe the requirements for streets, blocks, buildings and Open Spaces. The PLDP also includes the requirements and goals for the sustainable development of the site and the design standards for private and public right of way improvements.
 When a specific project is identified within the SPD district a Final Land Development Plan (FLDP) submission is prepared for public input and approval by the Planning Commission. The FLDP provides specific information about the building or project and identifies materials, uses and related information such as parking and signage. The FLDP must be consistent with and conforming to the SPD and PLDP.
(cribbed from the website of the Former Civic Arena Site planning process in the Hill District)

We actually received a copy for review a couple of weeks ago, but I was not sure if it was intended for public circulation and was able to confirm today that it is now a public document.

I will be publishing our initial comments on the document in the next couple of days. Still working on a few points. There is additional information that needs to be provided - the list of proposed uses, square footages, traffic study, parking numbers, etc. Most of what is here is focused on the physical form and envelope of the development - e.g. what are the maximums that they are asking to be able to build.

Please review and send us YOUR comments as well. We want to compile them on an on-going basis and incorporate them into the community commentary. You can e-mail comments to:

Friday, August 19, 2016

A Process Update.

It has been very quiet this summer on the blog and social media in general. Part of this is because little has been happening that we are aware of, part because summer tends to take its toll on schedules, and part of it is because we were all so damned tired from the previous eight plus months of being in the midst of this process on top of our other commitments - full time jobs, spouses, children, extended family, other volunteer work, etc.

Now that the anchor tenant has been announced, we understand that the developer will be looking to apply for approvals this fall. We will be sharing plans as they become available publicly, and we are developing our concerns and how to get answers. We encourage you to reach out and submit your concerns and questions. Please e-mail us at: We can't promise you a speedy response (see jobs, family. etc above), but we will look to compile the commentary that we receive to include in the community feedback.

We have three key points that we want to move forward:
  • Incorporate affordable housing into the former Penn Plaza site that can be inclusive of the East Liberty/East End community, and which promotes a diversity of income, age, gender, and race as the heart of a healthy community
  • Ensure that the highest quality public space is maintained and developed with the East Liberty community in mind
  • Ensure that the development is compatible with the existing community, both in terms of the built environment of the community and the shared vision/values of the community
Over the course of the next few weeks, we will be using this blog to explore how we believe that each of these goals can be advanced through design and advocacy, and why they are so very very important to establishing the future of East Liberty.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Whole Foods Announces That They Are Moving East Liberty Store to Penn Plaza Site.

As reported here by Tim Schooley of the Pittsburgh Business Times, Whole Foods will be the "secret" anchor tenant for the redevelopment of Penn Plaza that everyone has been speculating about for the past 10 months.

Residents of Enright Park have been speculating about this behind the scenes since October as there were many clues on the table:
  • MVA Architects, the team hired by LG Realty for the site planning, worked on the original expansion plans for Whole Foods at the Eastside development. It seemed odd that an out of town firm would be brought in without good reason, so when we saw this on on their website, we got suspicious.
  • We knew that Whole Foods wanted at least 40,000 square feet (articles indicate new one will be 50,000sf!), when the current store is roughly 20,000, and that the expansion plans were being delayed due to the complexity of expanding at the same time that they operate the Eastside store. And they had a very limited window for the expansion (essentially February to September in order to not disrupt their "high" season that kicks off from October and runs until after New Years). So the idea of being able to build a brand new store without disrupting operations in one of their highest grossing stores in the Mid-Atlantic region would be appealing.
  •  LG Realty's lawyer repeatedly told community members that if we "only knew" who the anchor tenant was going to be, we "would be so excited" that we would stop our protest against the sale and destruction of the public park, and that we would be thrilled that our property values were going to go up. Clearly, he doesn't know our community.
  • We did also hear from LG Realty at some point that there was a grocery anchor as part of it, and, given the plethora of options in the community, who would want to build in the shadow of Whole Foods except another Whole Foods?
  • And, finally, developers are so competitive with each other, what a better feather in a developer's cap than to snatch a plum tenant like Whole Foods away from another developer?
[ETA: Everyone we asked about the idea that it could be Whole Foods either denied it or denied knowledge of it, although it certainly seemed plausible to most. There were also lots of public rumors about it being Walmart or Costco, and MV+A has also been known for doing urban Walmarts...]

It will be an interesting conversation now that the news is public. Historically, Whole Foods has been a supportive community partner to our neighborhood. However, 15 years ago they were building on a vacant taxi dispatch and parking lots. They weren't encroaching on affordable housing and a public park. Two-hundred low income households had not been displaced from their community by the developer. The community wasn't at risk of losing one of only a few green public spaces in the community, open and accessible to ALL without a price of entry, including majestic established oak trees, community basketball courts, and shady lawns*. The community wasn't yet feeling that we were in siege mentality against the waves of development that have since been rolling down Penn Avenue.

It's going to be interesting.

*Theoretically, the park has some protection via the zoning legislation that was passed this spring, but it is proposed to be redesigned, reconfigured, and it will certainly undergo significant changes with a major development adjacent to it. Designs forthcoming...

**Update: An article from Mark Belko of the Post-Gazette here.**

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Updates on the Affordable Housing Discussions

There have been a number of updates on affordable housing in East Liberty and the East End lately. Please bear with me as I attempt to bring the blog up to speed.

Mellon's Orchard (URA redevelopment project)
If you haven't already heard, Trek Development was awarded the Mellon's Orchard South project for a new mixed-income housing development on the parking lot sites at the northwest corner of Penn Circle, aka the Farmers Market site. While we have not seen actual design proposals yet (which would still be very preliminary and subject to change), what we do know is that that the plans include:
  • 104 units of rental housing
  • 50% of these are slated for households at or below 60% Area Median Income (AMI)
  • The remaining 50% have been indicated as renting at 10-15% below "market rate".  Which means looking at rental rates of $800 - $1600 per month, rather than the $1,800 - 3,000 per month rates that are being seen elsewhere in East Liberty's new developments of late. This is good news as these rates will, hopefully, make them accessible to a wider range of residents on more moderate incomes, but who are getting by without subsidy.
  • The coverage also reports that there will be retail spaces that will target leasing to local and minority- and women-owned businesses. This is also good news as we are seeing rates in the commercial district skyrocket.
More coverage here via Tim Schooley of the Pittsburgh Business Times.

It should also be noted that LG Realty, the owners of Penn Plaza, did also submit for the Mellon's Orchard project and were not awarded. Given the structure of the Memorandum of Understanding from September 2015,  the fact that they were not awarded this project currently releases them from obligation to provide affordable housing on the Penn Plaza site. I note "currently" because there may still be tools that the City is developing for all developers on projects of a certain size that can be used to leverage affordable housing in the future (see Affordable Housing Task Recommendations below). Ryan Deto of the City Paper provides updated coverage of the Mellon's Orchard and its relationship to Penn Plaza and Enright Parklet here.

Affordable Housing Task Force - Initial Recommendations
The City's Affordable Housing Task Force presented its draft recommendations to City Council on April 28, 2016 at a post-agenda hearing. There was a lot of coverage of the event, including the Post Gazette and others. The Mayor's press release on the recommendations includes a short digestible summary as well. There was also an extremely well attended press conference and hearing right before the post-agenda. Not sure on the actual head count, but many passionate statements on the need for affordable housing.

This need is made even clearer via some of the ULI report (see below page 13) that point out that the East End (meaning East Liberty-Larimer-Homewood-East Hills-Lincoln-Lemington) median income is $23,000, meaning that "affordable" (at 30% of income) means a rent of $640 per month. By way of scale, the median for Pittsburgh as a whole is $41,000 with affordable housing clocking in at $1,100. And neither of these rates has been addressed in any new housing that we have seen in East Liberty in the past 4 years.

Admittedly, some of the recommendations hit that "well of COURSE!" note, but it is also incredibly important to have these written down, documented, and adopted in order to create a framework that can be used to shape policy. We are looking forward at how the actual implementation of the work moves forward, and how quickly some of it can happen. Housing policy is a massive ship, it is significantly underfunded, and, regardless of how we all know that it is well beyond time to do the right thing, it takes a lot of time, money, and effort to turn it around. Kudos to the City for finally taking it on and accepting the challenges it brings.

Urban Land Institute Study and Preliminary Report
East Liberty Development Inc (ELDI), working in concert with Councilman Burgess's office, contracted with the Urban Land Institute (ULI) to conduct a 5-day visioning exercise to evaluate the vision and strategies for preserving affordable housing in the East End.  The goal of this strategy is to preserve and provide a diverse range of high-quality affordable housing; protect existing low-income residents; leverage development and economic growth from public economic and infrastructure investments in East Liberty and Larimer; and to attract new growth from the region. 

ULI has completed their preliminary report, which you can download here. There is also a link to the powerpoint presentation and Councilman Burgess's office is working to get the televised broadcast of the report out up on-line via the City's cable channel. Stay tuned as more report outs come on-line.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

A Big Update.

The official statement:

Today, City Council voted to re-zone the Penn Plaza property and Enright Park to allow for the redevelopment that LG Realty has aggressively sought for its site. But, critically, the rezoning passed with concrete protections for the park and the neighborhood in the form of conditions that Mayor Bill Peduto, Chief of Staff Kevin Acklin, and the City Planning department have assisted Council in attaching to the legislation. Enright Park's neighbors and advocates worked tirelessly with the Administration to shape these conditions, and the City worked against tremendous pressure to ensure that the rezoning legislation moved forward only with them in place.

While we normally could not support the re-zoning of either site without a Preliminary Land Development Plan from the developer, we nonetheless recognize the unique circumstances that brought us to this juncture today, as well as the tremendous amount of work that has gone into balancing complex competing interests on this very important site. Therefore, we - the Enright Park Neighborhood Association, Friendship Community Group, and Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation - have placed our support behind the legislation. 

These legally binding conditions will ensure an appropriate and thorough public review process for the entire site, giving the larger community the input which its citizens deserve. We are grateful that these conditions guarantee that neither streets nor driveways will divide the park, and that most of what remains in the way of a mature tree canopy will be preserved. These conditions will allow the park to maintain its present size (although in a different configuration) and remain under public ownership, ensuring that future generations of residents will be able to enjoy it. We see opportunities ahead to hold meaningful discussions about how Enright Park may best serve this community for years to come.

In that vein, there is still much work to be done, and we're going to continue to pursue what we feel will be the most favorable set of outcomes for the neighborhood during the unfolding development at Penn Plaza. We express our utmost appreciation to the Mayor, to Chief of Staff Acklin, and to Planning Director Ray Gastil, along with those members of City Council who were receptive to our concerns. Most of all, we thank all those who came out in support of preserving this vital community amenity.

More to come. We are exhausted and elated.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Waiting Game. And Keeping Places.

We've been quiet for a few weeks. This doesn't mean that there are not many discussions happening.  Many people are talking about what is happening in the neighborhood, what the future could be for the western gateway of East Liberty (e.g. the intersection of Penn and Negley), and what a public park in this location SHOULD be. The rezoning has been open, tabled, re-opened, and tabled again at City Council as conversations and negotiations go forward.

We greatly appreciate the time that the Mayor's Office, City Council, and the Planning Department have put into this process, both from the perspective of seeking solutions for the affordable housing crisis triggered by the Penn Plaza evictions, and for the community park that serves residents from all over the neighborhood.

And yes, as a reminder to the developers out there, there is a public park and it is named Enright. And many people from all walks of life use it on a daily basis. So if we seem irked when you propose to turn it into a retail and restaurant oriented "festival street", it's because we are irked. Beyond irked. And we might even occasionally fly off the handle. Because, really, rather than spending another 20 - 40 hours this week dealing with the mess you are making in our neighborhood, we'd prefer to be hanging out with our kids, our friends, our families, and our neighbors in the park.

One of the things that we are trying to make people understand is there IS a context and a community here, even after half of the residents have been evicted.* In fact, their community is still here, albeit suffering from their absence.

Developers and their consultants may not like or appreciate what they see, or appreciate how it works, but there is a PLACE here in Enright Park, and throughout East Liberty. Yes, it may be scraggly around the edges, in need of some elbow grease and some investment, but to see our community repeatedly treated as if it is a blank slate is an effort to erase the people who have been here and continue to be here. It's quite frankly offensive.

There is much much talk from the developers' architects about how they excel at placemaking, but we have yet to hear from anyone on their side of the table about how they excel at placekeeping, including the acknowledgement of the existing community, our collective histories, and the politics of spatial design as they are playing out on center stage in East Liberty these days, whether you choose to call it revitalization or gentrification.

It's messy stuff, yes, and we all play a role in it it, like it or not.

But being involved in the conversation, even when it gets uncomfortable, is important to building community strength and resilience. We may have checked off many of the goals in our community plans, but it's clear that we are missing something that can't be quantified - the sense of place, the sense of belonging, the sense of people. How do we get there? Can we correct the course of the neighborhood or is it an unstoppable trajectory?

It's messy. But East Liberty is up for it.

I'll leave it with a quote from the fantastic John Brewer, taken from an excellent recent article in Belt Magazine:

“Old East Liberty people like myself, we see the progress happening and the development, and all of that is good,” John Brewer says. “But there are questions about inclusion. Who is all that for? Will we be included in the final plans?”

Will you be here too?

*Penn Plaza residents make (or made) up roughly half of the census tract that comprises the Enright Park area of East Liberty.