Planning forum considers setting up steering committee to work with UPMC on closing of South Side hospital
A proposal for the Planning Forum to form a steering committee to deal with the future of UPMC South Side was one of the issues discussed at the September 9 meeting of the South Side Planning Forum.
"Rather than sit on the sidelines and see what happens, we would have a pro-active role," said Rick Belloli, executive director of the South Side Local Development Co ., who proposed the idea.
The steering committee would be modeled after the LTV Steering Committee, which was negotiated to guide the development process when the URA bought the former steel plant site in 1994.
While UPMC South Side officials have stated the hospital will close within five years as it consolidates with UPMC Mercy, local residents and elected officials have vowed to fight to keep it open.
Tracy Myers, board member and business development chair of the SSLDC, said the SSLDC board wants to establish a steering committee to ensure that whatever happens, the community is represented.
Mr. Belloli said he would like all side conversations on the consolidation to get funneled some way.
"When we're not speaking as one, we're really not speaking," he said.
Forum chair Hugh Brannan said that if adopted, policy guidelines would be established. He asked members to confer with their organizations about the matter, with a vote taken at the next meeting.
The meeting began with an overview of local crime by Commander Catherine McNeilly and Crime Prevention Officer Christine Luffey.
The officers said the "Zap It!" program is close to being up and running in Zone 3. Under the program, Officer Luffey will communicate via email — to the entire zone or specific officers – information she gleans from the public meetings she attends.
That information would range from specific complaints to concerns to tips about suspected illegal activites. Commander McNeilly will receive a copy of all email.
"Then I can tell if they are being responded to," she said.
Officer Luffey said residents should sign up for free crime alerts from the police through the CitizenObserver. The website is: http://www.citizen-observer.com.
Mr. Belloli suggested having citizen volunteers enter information instead of utilizing valuable police time.
Commander McNeilly said she proposed hiring retired police officers for such tasks — and other jobs like watching surveillance cameras and conducting background checks — but state law prohibits it as "double dipping."
She said she wants to have the law changed to hire such officers —wages only, no benefits — for which the pub
lic gains from the officers' wealth of experience, and the officers supplement their pensions.
"It's so simple and everyone wins," she said.
Officer Luffey said to send crime statistics, such as she prepared about the Flats, she would like to organize residents into block watches, so she can enter the statistics readily into the CitizenObserver site for access by all block watch members.
Communities groups should contact her at 412-488-8425 to receive crime statistics about their neighborhoods.
Next, an audience member said he was concerned about outdoor activities to be staged by the Birmingham Bridge Tavern the upcoming weekend, which included closing streets.
The tavern planned to serve drinks outdoors until midnight and provide band entertainment.
Commander McNeilly said the department would check on it. Mr. Brannan said he would contact the city as it was the first time the Planning Forum heard of it, and all special events permits are supposed to go through the forum.
In another matter, Wanda Jankoski, of the South Side Community Council, said she is concerned about the noise and health issues of selling pizza until 3 a.m. on weekends on Carson St ., which a restaurant is illegally doing.
Commander McNeilly said the Health Department should be contacted.
When forum members were polled on their respective groups' responses to the latest draft of the Good Neighbor Cooperation Memorandum, it was learned the South Side Community Council and the South Side Slopes Neighborhood Association did not approve.
Without a consensus, the forum cannot endorse it.
Ms. Jankoski said the community council could not come to a consensus, as there were concerns about the URA being involved; about who would manage it; and that it was "way too watered down."
At the prior forum meeting, Josette Fitzgibbons, of the Mayor's Advisory Committee on the South Side, said the latest draft was watered down, in response to comments from forum groups, so as not to sound "so legal."
The document, which is not legally binding, was to operate as a pledge by participating parties — such as landlords, renters, business owners, and community groups — to comply with all applicable laws; to cooperate to establish the safety and prosperity of the South Side; and more.
While it was only for Carson St ., the goal was to expand it onto other streets.
Ms. Jankoski said if another version is presented, her group would look at it.
In the LTV report, Mr. Belloli said the widening of East Carson St. between 25th and 34th streets will not take place as scheduled.
That is because the contractor picked was not the lowest bidder; the declared reason was that PennDOT felt the lowest bidder did not have the capacity to do the job under the bid constrictions.
That bidder is appealing PennDOT's decision.
Mr. Brannan said the holiday schedule will be respected regardless of the contractor. So as not to impact Christmas shopping, there will be stoppages in November during which off-Carson St. work will occur.
A town meeting on the project will be held once the legal issues are settled.
In other news, Mr. Belloli said Hofbrauhaus, on-site brewers specializing in German beer and food, is on schedule for a spring, 2009, opening.
Groundbreaking is expected to occur this winter on the Soffer hotel on South Water St.
Construction of the Dick Corporation headquarters on Sidney St. is currently stalled. One reason is that the company is looking for another tenant to share a substantial part of the building. Another reason is the overall credit market.
Reconstruction of the streets behind the IBEW building is moving along.
A new building at 28th and Sidney streets will house restaurants which will soon be appearing before the Design Committee of the SSLDC.
The Hot Metal Grille will reopen under a new name with the same ownership.
Recently, a valet drop-off was built by the restaurant, without authorization, in front of the building along Carson St. It is not clear what action will be taken, said Mr. Belloli.
The forum's next meeting will be on October 14. It will begin at 5:15 p.m. with a crime update from Commander McNeilly.