Hill District group sues city, planning commission over former arena site

Date Published: 
Saturday, January 3, 2015

A Hill District community group has sued Pittsburgh and its Planning Commission, asking Allegheny County Court to overturn the commission's approval of the Penguins' $440 million plan for redeveloping the former Civic Arena site.

Both sides say that the lawsuit should not delay development set to begin this year and include a five-story world headquarters for U.S. Steel, housing, offices, restaurants and entertainment venues.

"I don't think it does (delay the project), because there's an ability for everyone to basically fix the problem and proceed forward if (the Penguins) come to the table," Downtown attorney Jonathan Kamin said Saturday.

Kamin filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Hill Community Development Corp.

The organization contends that the Penguins are reneging on an agreement signed by the city, team and neighborhood that requires such things as affordable housing and participation by minority- and female-owned businesses at the 28-acre development site.

Penguins Chief Operating Officer Travis Williams disagreed, saying the team has never backtracked on commitments to the neighborhood and intends to fulfill its part of the most recent agreement known as a Community Collaboration and Implementation Plan.

"At the end of the day, the Penguins are committed to the document that we signed with the community," Williams said. "What the community is doing here is not living up to what they signed. They're trying to go beyond that."

Planning commission members early last month unanimously approved the Penguins' preliminary development plan for the property, owned by the Pittsburgh Urban Redevelopment Authority and the Sports and Exhibition Authority. But commissioners ruled against the Hill Community Development Corp.'s request to make the agreement a legally binding part of the plan.

The lawsuit filed Friday claims the decision to approve the plan was "arbitrary, capricious and an abuse of discretion" because it was based on zoning changes that have yet to be adopted by Pittsburgh City Council.

Kevin Acklin, who chairs the URA, said the development will trigger revitalization of the Hill District and adjacent Uptown neighborhoods.

"It is our intention to forge ahead," said Acklin, who serves as chief of staff to Mayor Bill Peduto. "We think it's unfortunate that the appeal was filed. We think it is in the best interests of the Hill District and the city to proceed with the agreement in place."

Kamin said the neighborhood group agrees that the development will benefit the city and its residents.

"We're all for this development," he said. "We just don't want it to be railroaded through without paying attention to the agreement. We want a written commitment that the Pens will live by their obligations. ..."

City officials plan to use arena site development to generate funds for redeveloping Uptown and other parts of the Hill District.

Peduto in September proposed a 20-year, tax-increment financing district, which would take a percentage of tax revenue generated by the development and reinvest it in infrastructure and buildings in the neighborhoods.

Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-765-2312 or bbauder [at] tribweb.com. Staff writer Michael Hasch contributed.

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