Saturday, February 4, 2017

A Much Belated Update.

Many apologies for not posting updates in the past month. It was a whirlwind, both in the community and in personal lives, and continues to be one.

On Tuesday, January 10, the Planning Commission unanimously voted to DENY approval of LG Realty's Preliminary Land Development Plan. This approval was required for them to move forward with their proposal to reconfigure the public park and their site to accommodate a new 50,000 s.f. Whole Foods, 200 or so units of market rate housing, and about 600 parking spaces in a multi-story parking garage on the edge of the park.

The official transcript has not yet been made public, but among the concerns cited by Commissioners in their deliberations were:
  • Concerns for traffic and pedestrian access to the site in relation to the surrounding neighborhood
  • Lack of community engagement in the development and vetting of the PLDP
  • That the proposal does not "create a favorable environmental, social and economic impact on the City" [important! This is a direct quote from the Zoning Code for one of the criteria that Commission should use to review the proposal] 
  • That the proposal does not actually meet the criteria established by City Council in the zone change from April 2016, particularly in relation to the reconfiguration of the park. 
Here are some of the articles covering the hearing:

Tim Schooley in the Pittsburgh Business Times
Mark Belko in the Post-Gazette.
Bob Bauder in the Trib.
A piece on WPXI.

If you want to actually watch the discussion among the Commission, Jacquea Mae took live video of the hearing that you can view on Facebook. 

But of course...

LG Realty filed an appeal of the decision not a week later, before the official transcript had even been released. In their appeal, they claim that the decision was "unabashedly political". The process for the appeal is that it will go to conference before a judge in late February, with the parties then providing briefs to the judge within a time frame to be determined at the conference. There is no testimony taken. It could be three to six months before a final decision is rendered by the judge. And then there would be an opportunity for either party to appeal THAT decision, which could add another 1-2 years to the process.

However, in the meantime...

view from Negley

view from Negley

LG Realty decided to cut down all the trees on their property (NOT the park - they don't have legal access to it yet). 

fence work in starting...
not like we will have any more snow due to climate change, but the Enright Park sledding hill was well used

LG Realty is in the process of  putting up a fence to keep the community off of the small hill that sits adjacent to the park (and is their property) and has been used for decades as a sledding hill for the kids in the neighborhood. 

There was a brief interlude when we were all being encouraged to come together and work through the differences on the development. [Qualifier to this piece: the main contention of the community is that they are attempting to take public land, in the form of the park, to enhance their development, and yet have not met the standards that were established. As in much of the reporting on Penn Plaza and Enright Park, is sounds in this article as if the developer is only working on their own property and not receiving massive benefit from a reconfiguration of a public park. Our position remains that, if one is taking advantage of public assets, the public has the right and the responsibility to weigh in on the development above and beyond what might be required of a development solely on private property.]

notices appeared on the site Friday morning.
AND OF COURSE... LG Realty has filed ANOTHER claim and posted THESE notices on the fence surrounding the site. 

Essentially, they are claiming that because a WRITTEN decision of the Planning Commission has not been issued within the time frame cited, their project is "deemed approved" and they plan to move "full steam ahead". We should note that the actual Planning Commission vote DID occur within the time frame cited (although it's questionable as to whether or not that actually applies in this case), and that there is not a clear requirement that there be written decisions regardless. In the past, Planning Commission decisions were simply recorded into the transcript of the proceedings.

Interestingly, the same day that the notices appeared, the Post-Gazette published an article that extensively quotes their lawyer, Jonathan Kamin. 

Before the end of the day, the Mayor's Office had issued a strongly worded statement on the matter, stating “...planning commission explicitly denied Pennley Park’s application and development plan within the legal time period of the official submission. We will fight these legal tricks before the Common Pleas court.”

Thank you Mayor Peduto for assuring East Liberty, and other neighborhoods that are facing developer pressures, that you stand with Planning Commission and support their decisions!


What's Next, you may ask?

We will keep you posted about the developments. In the meantime:
  • Check out the gorgeous image and words that artist Vanessa German created at Penn Plaza a few weeks ago
  • The images and discussion from the inspiring Our Feminism Must Be Intersectional march that was held on January 21, which started at Penn Plaza. 
  • And PLEASE take a moment to read the Love Notes to East Liberty that were posted on the Penn Plaza fence as part of that event. Thank you Rachel Nunes for taking such care to document them. They were, not surprisingly, removed by building management a few days later.
Things may be moving too fast to get onto the website for a little bit, but please follow along on Facebook and on Twitter!

(And we promise to post with information not related to the park soon! Good things coming to the Enright Community Garden this year. Stay tuned in order to get involved!)


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