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An uncommon hockey match: Pittsburgh Penguins enter the arena of community development
Hill Community Development Corporation promotes collaboration and good land use policy within the historic Hill District neighborhood of Pittsburgh PA

PITTSBURGH, Jan. 20, 2015 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- When several media outlets incorrectly reported that a Hill District community group sued the National Hockey League's Pittsburgh Penguins, it was news to everyone.  In fact, the Hill Community Development Corporation (Hill CDC) never sued the Penguins.  The Hill CDC filed an appeal of the City of Pittsburgh Planning Commission's approval of the Penguins' development plan for the Lower Hill District, a historic 28-acre tract of public land in the heart of Pittsburgh, PA.  The Hill CDC contended that the submitted plan could put the entire neighborhood on thin ice.

Contrary to what some hinted at in the media, the organization did not appeal to obstruct development, to shake-down the City or the Penguins, or to cause injury to the recently announced US Steel headquarters deal.  Quite the opposite – the Hill CDC was seeking true collaboration, but believed that the Hill District community was left with no other choice if one of Pittsburgh's most historic neighborhoods was to be adequately protected.

The primary bone of contention was enforcement of the "historic community agreement" called the "Community Collaboration and Implementation Plan" (CCIP) www.hilldistrict.org/ccip. The agreement addresses wealth building, jobs, minority business/hiring goals, good urban design and re-investment into the entire neighborhood which was nearly destroyed by federally-funded urban renewal in the 1950s and 1960s.  Thousands of homes were taken, businesses were demolished, and a vibrant cultural and commerce center was all but obliterated.

Now, the neighborhood is making a comeback and the Hill CDC is at the forefront; but the organization's approach is to trust, but verify.  Unfortunately, some branded the community's efforts to assure enforcement of the agreement as "re-trading", "rogue" and "bad faith".  The reality is, the Hill CDC's commitment is first and foremost to the Hill District, and it is carrying out its mission in an honest, transparent, thorough and integral manner.

While it is common for corporations and private interests to use the full force of their legal and regulatory options in complex business transactions, when savvy communities do so, it is labeled as irrational protest or obstruction.

The truth is, the December 2014 meeting at which the City's Planning Commission approved the Penguins' development plan was so confusing, that nobody, including some members of the Commission, seemed to know what was happening.  But, some things were clear:

  •  The Commission denied the community's request to include the Community Collaboration and Implementation Plan (CCIP) as a layer of review for future proposed developments.
     
  • There was no public discourse on the zero parking requirement for the centrally located site which sits between bustling Downtown, the residential Hill District, and the university district of Oakland.  This begged the question:  Why did the City leave the decision to provide parking solely to private developers?
     
  • No discussion of building heights blocking residential views and historic structures took place at the Commission meeting.  Under the Penguins' plan, many of the surrounding residents, some of whom were displaced from the Lower Hill District decades ago, could likely end up with brick buildings as their view.
     
  • The Pittsburgh Penguins' plan, as was written, would have even allowed for oil and gas drilling on the Lower Hill District site.  How could such a polarizing public health and environmental issue be decided without public discourse?

 

And then there's affordable housing.  In a rush to submit their Preliminary Land Development Plan to the City Planning Commission, the Penguins miscalculated how their plan would be entangled in a legislative process already underway regarding affordable housing city-wide.

All of these issues could only lead the Hill District to one place – an appeal.

Early in, attorneys reviewing the appeal concluded that it was not arbitrary or without legal merit.  Rather, the appeal was squarely focused on protecting the interests of the Hill District and its residents.  And it just so happens that it was also in the best interest of the entire City of Pittsburgh, which aspires to live up to its "Most Livable City" banner for all residents.

It is important to remember that this is not land that was purchased by the hockey team through an open, public bid or private purchase; it was public, taxpayer-owned land that was given to them when they threatened to leave Pittsburgh after their failed attempt to place a casino within the historic Hill District.

As is often the case with poor and working class communities, there has been a spirit of collaboration.  But, the Hill District is not only collaborative; the community is informed, unified and empowered.  It's clear that residents and stakeholders know it's unwise to allow the next half century of the community's growth to once again be thwarted by poor public policy or hastily made land use decisions.  Fortunately, the Hill CDC was able to withdraw its appeal because all parties reached agreement to address the aforementioned issues and other concerns.  Now, together, all can begin moving forward on the right track.

Given the importance of this site to the City of Pittsburgh, it seems like the perfect opportunity for everyone to pitch-in and score.  As for the Hill CDC, we're all in.

Follow the Hill CDC @myhilldistrict on Facebook and Twitter, or visit www.hilldistrict.org.

 

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First version posted January 19th.

Our Appeal for the Greater Good
Why policy and land use choices for the Lower Hill District matter

When I heard media reports that the Hill Community Development Corporation (Hill CDC) had sued the Pittsburgh Penguins, it was news to me.  In fact, we did not sue the Penguins.  We filed an appeal of the City of Pittsburgh Planning Commission’s approval of the Penguins’ development plan for the Lower Hill District.  We did not appeal to obstruct development, to shake-down the City or the Penguins, or to cause injury to the US Steel deal.  We did it because we were left with no other choice to ensure the community’s interests are adequately protected.

The primary bone of contention has been enforcement of the “historic agreement” called the “Community Collaboration and Implementation Plan” (CCIP).  Some have branded our efforts as “re-trading”, “rogue” and “bad faith”, but the reality is that our commitment to the Hill District is our top priority – and we have carried out our mission in an honest, transparent and integral manner. 

While it is common for corporations and private interests to use the full force of their legal and regulatory options in complex business transactions, it appears that when communities do so, it is labeled as irrational protest or obstruction.

The truth is, the meeting at which the City Planning Commission approved the Penguins’ development plan for the Lower Hill District was so confusing, that nobody, including some members of the Commission, seemed to know what was happening.  But, some things were clear:

  • The Planning Commission did not support the community’s request to include the historic Community Collaboration and Implementation Plan (CCIP) to measure positive social and economic impacts.  Although, Section 922.11.B.3 of the Zoning Code states that the Planning Commission shall assure that developments “create a favorable environmental, social and economic impact”.
     
  • There was no public discourse on the zero parking requirement.  As Downtown, Oakland and the Hill District are rapidly transforming, how is it that the City is leaving the decision to include or not include parking solely to private developers?
     
  • Building heights that block residential views and historic structures were not discussed.  Instead of seizing the opportunity to seamlessly connect the Middle Hill and Downtown, St. Benedict the Moor Church would be blocked, Freedom Corner will be dwarfed and the senior citizens living in K. Leroy Irvis Tower and residents on Bedford Avenue will enjoy the view of a new brick wall.  Many of these same residents were displaced from the Lower Hill in the late 50s.
     
  • The Penguins’ plan, as written, would even allow for oil and gas drilling on the Lower Hill District site.  How could such a polarizing issue be decided without public discourse?

And then there’s affordable housing.  In a rush to submit their Preliminary Land Development Plan to the Planning Commission, the Penguins bulldozed past the impacts of how their plan would be entangled in a legislative process that involves the entire City.  After all, Councilman Lavelle introduced his ordinance requiring developers for “Specially Planned Districts” to include 30% affordable housing, whenever feasible, in December 2012.  The fact is, the affordability levels within our “historic agreement” are a floor, they are not the ultimate goal.   How many Pittsburghers think $984 per month for a one-bedroom rental is “affordable”?

All of these issues could only lead us to one place – an appeal.

Our appeal is not random, nor is it arbitrary or without legal merit.  It is squarely focused on protecting the interests of the Hill District and its residents, and it just so happens that it is also in the best interest of the entire City. 

It is important to remember that this is not land that was purchased by the Penguins through an open public bid or private purchase; it is public land that was given to them when they threatened to leave Pittsburgh after their failed attempt to place a casino within the Hill District, a residential neighborhood.

As is always the case, the Hill District, and in particular the Hill CDC, is willing to move past these issues and has a spirit of collaboration, but we can’t allow the next half century of our community’s growth to once again be thwarted by poor public policy or hastily made land use decisions.  Given the importance of this site to our City, we could use everyone’s help.

Marimba Milliones
President & CEO
Hill Community Development Corporation
www.hilldistrict.org

 

 

 

 

 

www.hilldistrict.org | 412-765-1820 | info@hilldistrict.org

Serving the Greater Hill District of Pittsburgh, PA