Penn Plaza re-development vote postponed until January 10th

After a 3 hour-long public hearing, with lots of opposition to the Penn Plaza re-development presented, the Planning Commission filed for a “continuance,” which means they’ll deliberate and vote on the preliminary land development plan on January 10th. Planning Director Ray Gastil mentioned that they needed time to address the concerns about community process and fair housing.

Here is press coverage on the event:

And here are the comments PPT provided.

To: City of Pittsburgh Planning Commission

From: Molly Nichols, Director of Pittsburghers for Public Transit

Re: Pennley Park South PLDP


“If it’s not for all; it’s not for us.” I urge you to consider this line as you review and vote on the Pennley Park South New Development proposal. This quote is connected to an initiative led by the Mayor’s office called P4. I am grateful to live in a city where our Mayor and his administration verbally commit to building an equitable city, where everyone is supposed to benefit from the growth, and no one is left behind.

But too often do I see decisions get made that contradict this commitment. Just look at this development. Over 300 units of affordable housing have been, or will soon be razed by LG realty. Hundreds of residents have been displaced, residents who had lived there for decades—to places with less access to grocery stores, doctors, jobs, schools, friends, family, social networks, and most near and dear to the organization I work with, public transit. Residents have been forced to move to places outside the city including Penn Hills, Plum, Sharpsburg, Homestead, Brentwood, Charleroi, Baldwin, Green Tree, Creighton, McDonald, Academy, Duquesne, Monroeville, McKeesport, California.

The plans for this site include up to 400 market rate units and a luxury grocery store. Is this a development for all? When only those who can afford apartments that cost 1600/month and more can live and shop there? The median rent for East Liberty residents in 2013 was $575. Where is the space for residents who most need the robust transit service in this community? The two phases of the East Liberty Transit Revitalization investment district, which Penn Plaza is now part of, include the development of 1486 units. Do you know how many are affordable? 117. That’s 7.8%. 61 in the first phase at E Liberty Place South, and 56 in the second phase at Mellon’s Orchard. We should learn from other cities that built inequitable transit oriented development. In many instances, ridership barely went up, and in DC the majority of residents living near Metro stops went from black to white.

You may want to create mixed income neighborhoods, but the only way to do that, without displacing long-time residents, is by building more affordable units into the new developments. Otherwise, as was stated by the Commission on Human Relations, in effect you are excluding members of protected classes, including the elderly, people with disabilities, and African-Americans. And if you do that, you are violating your own obligation to further fair housing, your own comprehensive plan to increase the supply of affordable and accessible housing in this city.

The city may only have so much control over the decisions of a private developer, the forces of the market, the financing mechanisms, etc. But that is why your role is so important today. You, the planning commission, have the authority to give approval to these development plans, or not. We recognize that the Mayor’s office played an important role, after a robust community led campaign for the residents who faced eviction, to negotiate for the developers to delay the evictions, offer re-location assistance, and give up half of a tax break for an affordable housing fund.

But these concessions are not nearly enough. That fund is spread out over 10-20 years, and is banking on there being affordable housing elsewhere. Why not dedicate money for this development itself to include affordable units? If these developers are committed to affordable housing and equity, as they claimed to be at the community meeting last night, giving up half of a tax break for an undetermined number of affordable units, at some other location, is woefully insufficient. LG realty has and will bulldoze over 300 units; they’ve gotten zoning approvals, and plan to make significant and unpopular changes to a city owned park. And they only shared these plans at a full public meeting 18 hours ago—demonstrating a complete lack of legitimate community process.

The planning commission should not approve this development, most especially because it excludes protected classes from access. If it’s not for all; it’s not for us.