Companies planning to locate or develop property on the South Side should take notice of events of the last month in the neighborhood.
Twice in the last month Councilman Bruce A. Kraus called special town meetings to allow residents and business owners and developers to get together and discuss projects before going before the Pittsburgh Zoning Board for permission to proceed with their projects. Attendance at those meetings by neighborhood residents proved that South Siders are concerned about more than the number of bars on East Carson Street.
More than 70 people showed up at the Market House to learn more about the project planned by Landmark Property Development for the former police station and jailhouse on 13th Street. In a better late than never, the owners of the company sat patiently and listened to resident after resident talk about why they didn't want a four-story 15-condominium development built in the middle of their neighborhood.
After the meeting the owners decided to not only postpone their planned hearing before the zoning board, but also delayed their presentation before the South Side Planning Forum until a new plan that takes into consideration the concerns of the neighborhood could be formulated.
According the South Side Neighborhood Plan, the Planning Forum, consisting of community organizations on South Side plus representation from health, education and religious institutions in the neighborhood, is the collective voice of the community on planning issues. Its charge is to address community wide development issues, issues that don't affect the entire community are referred back to the individual organizations for further action.
Landmark Property Development is now scheduled to make a new presentation before the Planning Forum on March 11 and before the Zoning Board on March 27.
For major development issues the South Side Planning Forum works on consensus with all members voting in favor to have a project supported. If only one member votes against a proposal the South Side Planning Forum will not support the project.
After a presentation, the member representative from each organization takes the information back to their board for support or rejection of the proposal. A process that the Neighborhood Plan recommends developers budget three months time for completion.
The Planning Forum has on occasion, when expedience was necessary, asked its members to vote on a proposal electronically. This will be one of those times. If Landmark Property Development is looking for the support of the neighborhood they will have only days between making a presentation on the new proposal to the Planning Forum and asking the Zoning Board for its approval.
Looking at this kind of development is the function of the forum, a function that it has excelled at for most of the last two decades. The forum has helped to guide the development at the SouthSide Works and is considered by many to be the unified voice of the South Side.
Over the last several years the city and South Side have experienced several changes in leadership after Mayor Tom Murphy and Councilman Gene Ricciardi left their positions. Since then, through the brief administrations of Bob O'Connor and Jeff Koch the effectiveness of the Planning Forum was diminished with city officials championing development over residents.
However, Councilman Kraus has renewed efforts to restore the process for development in South Side and has taken an active part in engaging residents to have a voice in what is happening in their neighborhood. Only time will tell if the Ravenstahl Administration will have the respect for the forum to allow it to continue to guide development in the South Side.