There are many neighborhoods that envy South Side for what it has including a robust business district, a growing population, one of the best elementary schools in the city and a plan, The South Side Neighborhood Plan.
The South Side Neighborhood Plan grew out of the South Side Planning Forum, a consortium of community groups with representatives from residential, business, education, health, religious and social service sectors among others. The Forum also operates on consensus, if any one member organization votes against a proposal the Forum cannot and will not support that proposal.
From the beginning, the Forum and its LTV Steering Committee, using the South Side Neighborhood Plan, have worked with the Soffer Organization on the SouthSide Works development. In more that a decade, the developer and the residents have always been able to work out their differences with the support of the Forum.
Soffer unable to reach a compromise with the South Side community on the number of skyscrapers of more than 110 feet has sought a change in zoning that will allow three buildings, two condominium towers and a hotel, to reach into the sky 165 feet. Community groups represented in the Forum expressed concerns that the trio of towers will not only change the skyline and the view from the South Side Slopes, but due to their size and the height will have an expansive base, severely hampering access to the Monongahela River and its banks.
The South Side Planning Forum, representing a unified voice of the community, spoke out against the change before City of Pittsburgh officials each step of the way. The last opportunity for public comment was a public hearing before City Council chaired by District 3 Councilman Jeff Koch on September 13.
Councilman Koch, elected by a plurality of the vote in a special election this year to fill the unexpired term of Gene Ricciardi, had previously voiced the opinion that Soffer has spent a lot of money in South Side and should be permitted to build the towers, against the wishes of the South Side community.
Although it is true the SouthSide Works is a half billion dollar development, it is also true the development has been shepherded by the South Side Planning Forum. Fortunately the community and the developer have always been able to find a compromise when there has been a problem and should be encouraged to do so again.
In matters before City Council, the reality is however the district's council representative votes, the rest will generally follow. This was illustrated by the 6-1 preliminary vote with only Councilman Jim Motznik opposed to the proposal and Councilman Dan Deasy abstaining.
While it is easy to understand that council would be interested in bringing in additional tax revenue for the city, it is harder to understand why the district's council representative would oppose his constituents' wishes.
By voting in favor of the change in height restrictions, Mr. Koch is telling the member organizations of the Planning Forum, and in turn their thousands of members, that their wishes are to be discounted when placed against the wishes of the Soffer Organization.
The relationship between Soffer and the South Side has been a good one for both for more than a decade, and will no doubt be repaired with time. However, Mr. Koch's relationship with South Side is a new one and maybe not so easily fixed.
The final vote in City Council to change the height limitations is scheduled for today, Tuesday, Sept. 26. Perhaps Mr. Koch will take a leadership position with his fellow council members and vote against the proposal, as many of his constitutients already have.