South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

 
 

By David Assad
Contributing Writer 

Judge King, police listen to quality of life complaints in Knoxville

 

September 26, 2006



District magistrate Richard King introduced himself at the September meeting of 30th Ward Knoxville Block Watch at St. Sava Orthodox Church on Knox Ave.

Mr. King's magisterial district has always included the 29th Ward (Carrick). Since the beginning of the year (after long-time district judge Ann Scharding retired), the 29th Ward has been consolidated with the 30th and 18th wards to form a larger magisterial district under Mr. King.

He said that although the population in the local area is down, his cases have increased since he began his tenure as a local judge more than 12 years ago.

“Most cases are caused directly or indirectly by drug problems,” Mr. King said.

Another problem Mr. King has been dealing with more often in recent years is abandoned houses. This has been mostly caused by the elderly population dying off with no one taking ownership or responsibility for their property once they are deceased.

“It's a county-wide problem,” Mr. King said.

The district judge said in many cases, houses may be inherited by other elderly people from the deceased person's family and that person inheriting the property may not have the mental or physical capacity to take care of the property.

“They have no means to maintain the home and it becomes a big issue,” Mr. King said.

Mr. King told the audience at the meeting that his office has business hours on Wednesdays that may be more convenient for people who work a full-time day-time job.

The Wednesday hours are from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m ., instead of the standard 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. hours he office is generally open.

“We're here to help people and point them in the right direction,” said Mr. King who began this change for anyone needing to file legal paperwork after work.

Zone 3 Police Commander RaShall Brackney also spoke to the 30 or so Knoxville residents who showed up at the meeting. The response she received from some of the frustrated residents was not very pleasant.

The commander said she is willing to help the residents of Knoxville, but they also need to help themselves by giving her more detailed information about their problems of vandalism, graffiti, littering, loitering, drug-dealing, prostitution and a general deteriorating condition of the neighborhood that has affected every resident's quality of life.

The commander noted that most residents are not likely to be the victims of violent crime in their neighborhood, but she understands that constant loud noise late at night and living among dilapidated properties can be very big “quality of life” issues which make living there a nightmare.

She said the residents need to “strategize” and come up with “creative” ideas for combating their problems to eliminate those who are causing these “quality of life” issues. She suggested they come up with ideas by writing them on a blackboard.

Ms.Brackney said the police department's resources and manpower are limited so the residents' general plea for “more police on patrol” is not the practical answer for solving their problems in the neighborhood.

One of the residents, however, told Ms. Brackney that she has seen more police presence in the neighborhood over the past six months than what she had seen in the previous “six years” combined.

Commander Brackney said one of the ways the residents can “take back” their neighborhood is by putting the “spotlight” on those who are creating the problems. She suggested they make the people who are living the unsavory lifestyle aware that the rest of the neighborhood is watching them.

The commander noted that those involved in drug-dealing, prostitution, etc. prefer to do their dirty work in a low-profile, discreet manner where they are lurking “in the shadows” where no one detects them.

Some of the community leaders at the meeting told the commander, Mr. King and Councilman Jeff Koch (who was also at the meeting) that the Hilltop needs more new housing to attract higher-income, family-oriented households.

There has been new housing built on Bausman Street (for the physically challenged) that covers one block. There has also been eight new houses built on Beltzhoover Ave ., but that's been about it. Most of the properties on Beltzhoover remain unsold, according to the people in the audience.

One irate man in the audience said it was a “stupid idea” to build just a handful of new $100,000-plus homes on Beltzhoover Ave. when there are dozens and dozens of slum houses surrounding them.

“No one in their right mind is going to buy a more expensive house in the middle of all that,” the man said.

Councilmen Koch noted that the entire Beltzhoover Ave. corridor is supposed to be saturated with new houses eventually (perhaps in the next 10 years), but the job is being done piece meal as the houses are sold by the developer who can not afford to build more than a few of them at a time.

And that's the problem, according to some of the local community leaders who say that people will not move into the new houses on the Hilltop if the development is done piecemeal.

A sweeping change of the whole area covering blocks and blocks of property is the only way to get more affluent, responsible residents to move back into the area, according to the community leaders at the meeting. A complete tear-down of all the abandoned buildings and slum landlord housing is the only way to attack this problem, according to them.

For years, local community and business leaders have been saying that the Hilltop area is an ideal location for revitalization because of it's proximity to downtown Pittsburgh and several major highways. But they believe the malaise and stagnation in local government is one of the reasons the south Hilltop neighborhoods have been neglected.

The community leaders say city and county government do business in an antiquated system that takes years for even one abandoned property to be taken over by a developer. Inevitably, the developer is stuck with a delinquent property-tax bill when they try to take ownership.

Commander Brackney, who resides in the eastern part of the city, noted that Garfield, Bloomfield and Lawrenceville have been undergoing revitalization to their business and residential communities through community

activism.

The commander said she believes the development in the South Side Flats will eventually work its way up the hill into the neighboring communities once that area no longer has available space for growth.

To hasten this development, the commander said she has been “pushing hard” for a federal “Weed & Seed” program for the Hilltop area. She said any previous programs that claimed to be “Weed & Seed” in the local area were not the same thing she is striving for. She said the federal “Weed & Seed” in Lawrenceville helped spur development there and it can happen in the Hilltop area.

“There are creative ways we can handle our problems,” Ms. Brackney said.

 

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