By Margaret Smyka
Contributing Writer 

Neighbors unhappy with proposed new houses


September 15, 2009

Three presentations highlighted the Sept. 8 meeting of the South Side Planning Forum.

In the first, Chris Haupt presented plans for a proposed townhouse development at 3024 Harcum Way for three for-sale single family attached houses, and which neighbors object to.

Each home would have three bedrooms, two-car garage, 2.5 bathrooms, living room, dining room, and kitchen. The homes would be priced about $300,000.

The property formerly contained two houses. "One was torn down, while the other is a vacant house in deteriorating condition." The plan is to tear it, and its garage, down.

Mr. Haupt said the development is in keeping with the goals of the South Side Neighborhood Plan. They include: good quality, owner occupied, green space, improved parking, and improved traffic flow. ##ML(Planning Forum)##

The development team of Mr. Haupt and Fred Shaheen is awaiting the ruling of the Zoning Hearing Board on two variances it is seeking.

One variance is for a turnaround it plans to build on the dead-end street, which is located near 30th St. The other is for height: the houses will be four-stories high counting the garage, which raises the height to 38-feet.

Among the zoning board concerns, said Mr. Haupt, was the narrow street and the hillside.

"We just want to bring young, good people into the area" said Mr. Shaheen. "I don't understand why those residents are so angry."

Harcum Way resident Michael Hmel presented a petition signed by neighbors in opposition.

He and others in attendance said they were never contacted by the developer on the matter.

They expressed concerns that the street is too small and narrow for such a project; that the building will not be aesthetic to the rest of the street; it will be the tallest building on the street; and that the hillside behind the structure were never dealt with.

They also fear the homes will be rented by college students who will take away prime parking spots.

Now, residents park their cars on the sidewalk to leave more room on the street. There are 14 such parking spots, 15 registered cars on the street, and 13 houses.

Mr. Hmel said the development would take four parking spots away permanently while adding six cars to the street." The latter cars will be on the street, he said, because the garages will be too small.

Visitors to the new homes will also take up spaces, residents said.

Forum Chair Hugh Brannan asked forum member to confer with their respective organizations on the zoning change request, and to report back at the Oct. meeting. A consensus is required for the forum to take a stand on an issue.

Next, Mary Monaghan and Mary Frances Cooper of Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh spoke of the library system's financial status.

The library is facing a $6 million deficit in five years due to projected government funding cuts and rising costs.

Compounding the problem is that state budget proposals for 2010 include library cuts up to 50 percent. The state provides 20.5 percent of total library funding.

"We need your help," said Ms. Cooper.

She asked attendees to write letters, donate, and talk about the library to everyone.

"Maintaining funding for our library is something we need to have a community conversation about," she said.

She said the library system, comprised of 19 neighborhood branches, needs to advocate for more and sustainable funding.

Public input solicited over the summer in a series of town hall meetings was to be presented to city council on Sept. 14.

Mary Ellen Leigh, a board member of the Friends of South Side Library, said the 100th birthday of the branch will be celebrated on Oct. 3 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Everyone is welcome.

The South Side library occupies its original building.

"We are very proud of our building," said Ms. Leigh.

Forum representative Kathy Hamilton-Vargo said the branch is very valuable to the community in that residents without cars can walk to it; it is a great resource site; and seniors may use its computers.

Forum representative Wanda Jankoski said with the Oakland branch so crowded, and bus service being cut, the South Side branch becomes even more important.

To a question of who decides to close a branch, the response was the library board.

"Nobody wants to close any branches," said Ms. Cooper.

City Councilman Bruce Kraus, a library board member, called the library situation "a very very serious issue,"

He called the annual city funding of $40,000 "paltry," and said he would address the issue in council.

District Justice Gene Ricciardi commented on how wonderful it was that that so many people are supportive of the library and its efforts.

The library system will be receiving an award at the Oct. 28 Annual Meeting of the Brashear Association.

The final presentation was an update on the SouthSide Works by Mabon Lichtenfels, vice-president of development and construction for the Soffer Organization.

Construction on Riverfront Park is moving forward, with Phase I due for completion in December.

Phase I refers to work in the upper area of the park at the end of 27th St. That includes installing a drain system that will store storm water runoff for reuse for landscaping and irrigation." Also, landscaping and hard surface work will be done.

Toby Keith's country-themed "I Love This Bar & Grill" restaurant is coming in 2010. It will be located west of the Hofbrauhaus where a Doc Hotel was originally planned. Live entertainment will be featured.

Construction is expected to start in spring, 2010.

A two-story, two-tenant restaurant building is coming in late fall, 2010." It will be located at Sidney and 28th streets. The restaurants will be an American cuisine Shady Grove Restaurant, and a southwestern cuisine Adobe Gila Restaurant.

Mr. Lichtenfels also reported that efforts are underway with the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh (URA) to build a marina.

The next forum meeting will be a change of time and day: Monday, Oct. 12, at 5 p.m. It will begin with a presentation from Bryan Woll about the South Side as a hospitality district.

Mr. Woll is funded by the Local Government Academy to study the problem.


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