Wednesday, October 16, 2019

IMPORTANT UPDATE! (aren't they all important though?)

image via Tribune Review. View of new development from Enright Park. New South Saint Clair Street to left; extended Eva Street to the right.

Last week, we got word that the judge at Orphan's Court APPROVED the City's filing to swap a portion of Enright Park with the developer in order to reconfigure the park and support the development. You can read some of the coverage here in the Tribune Review (thanks Bob!).

We do support this land swap, and agreed to it in the many many months long negotiations and mediation that took place back in 2017 in order to settle the litigation that developed out of the developer's appeal of the Planning Commission's rejection of their revised Preliminary Land Development Plan.  

HOWEVER, we have MANY outstanding concerns that have not been addressed and we are urging the Mayor and City Council to consider these issues prior to a final decision. 

The land swap is now sitting before City Council for consideration with a final vote next week. Prior to a vote taking place, we are requesting the following of the City, and have requested an opportunity to meet with Mayor Peduto to discuss further. Neither of the two key components that were agreed to as part of the 2017 Consent Order that were critical to getting support from our community have been addressed - how will the park be reconstructed (and on what timeline) and how will funding generated for affordable housing by the development be disbursed with real COMMUNITY input?

Park Reconfiguration
Regarding the Park, we are requesting a fully transparent plan for how the land swap will occur and the timeline for it. Of particular note, we want to know:
  • What is the exact timeline for the developer to take ownership of the park? 
  • What steps will be taken to ensure that public access to the park remains in place as long as physically feasible? This is particularly important as the portion of the park that is being transferred to the developer includes the children's playground, two sets of swings, and a basketball court, as well as most of the grassy lawn area used for informal recreation. Cutting off access to these amenities prior to it being deemed necessary for construction is unacceptable.
  • Will the developer sign a temporary easement agreement that provides public access to the park site until such as time as construction deems it necessary to cease that access? What does that construction timeline look like and how will it impact quality of life for the residents?
  • How will the community be given the opportunity to celebrate and say goodbye to a place (the park) that has been extremely important, as well as mourn the loss of the trees that are a critical characteristic of the park?*
  • What steps is the City taking (and on what timeline) to advance the new park design and ensure that funding is in place for the reconstructed park? Will the Mayor commit money in the 2020 City budget towards both park design and reconstruction? 
 
Affordable Housing 
  • What is the City's commitment to follow through on the agreement to expand the TRID** and make affordable housing with community input a priority? This was a key linchpin to our entire agreement to support the consent order and we have yet to see any forward progress.
  •  How is the City going to engage community members (both residents AND former residents) in developing a community plan and strategy for affordable housing that is truly collaborative and not only in the hands of a chose few? See also this recent Public Source article: Who Is the Community?.

Construction Timeline and Community Impacts
  • What is the overall construction schedule for the development site? The community needs to have an opportunity to review and understand the construction management plan, and the impacts that it will have. 
  • Of particular note are the impacts on both vehicular and pedestrian traffic. It should be noted that Penn and Negley is a significant transit stop in all directions, and also serves a high number of school students. How will construction impact these community members? What plans are being put in place to ensure their safety and security?

* Author Dolores Hayden in Power of Place: Urban Landscapes as Public History writes poignantly about the importance of communities having the opportunity to celebrate and mourn the loss of the places that mark their history. The history of East Liberty's urban renewal is particularly checkered and troubling, given the myriad of racist practices that went into the programs that created Penn Circle and the adjacent housing complexes that have since been dismantled [and one might also posit continue to this day***]. However, that legacy is still part of our community narrative and for us to pretend that these places mean nothing and are merely one transactional relationship after another it to ignore the history of the place and to deny the realities of the people who have inhabited it. 

** TRID = Transit Revitalization Investment District. It is a mechanism that allows taxes from a development site to be diverted from the general funds (and, gulp, school district - yes it may be shooting oneself in the foot but it's an available mechanism) to be dedicated to fund infrastructure projects, such as site utilities and streets and parks, within a certain distance of the East Liberty transit stations. In this case, the community requested that the radius of the TRID be expanded in order to create opportunity within 3/4 of a mile (walking distance) of the former Penn Plaza site. It was also requested that there be a committee overseeing the distribution of those funds, which would include representatives from the impacted community groups. The City agreed to support this, but no forward motion has been made.  

*** See also There Are Black People in the Future . You'll be glad that you did. There's good stuff happening amidst all of it.