South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

 
 

By Al Lowe
Contributing Writer 

Mt. Washington hires consultant to examine housing in the neighborhood

 

March 23, 2010



A consulting firm for the Mount Washington Community Development Corporation recently sent out several hundred surveys to people who recently moved to or from Mount Washington.

"We did it so we could understand people's choices," Christine Brill, a firm representative, said at a community forum meeting on March 18.

The MWCDC recently hired Studio for Spatial Practice and another firm, Urban Partners, to gather data towards developing a 10-year housing strategy.

MWCDC Executive Director Chris Beichner said the organization wants to develop a real estate program so it can acquire property and maximize partnerships with developers to cultivate market conditions in portions of the neighborhood.

"Our CDC does not have a real estate program like East Liberty does," he said, adding that the new consultants visited every Mount Washington street.

Ms. Brill and Jonathan Kline, of Studio for Spatial Practice, a Lawrenceville architect and urban design firm, each spoke along with James Hartling, of Urban Partners, a firm specializing in marketing and development.

"Mount Washington is spectacular," Ms. Brill said. She mentioned the view from Grandview Avenue, the historical architecture and the parks. "Who else has two inclines?"

"We're collecting an enormous amount of data on trends before we make recommendations," Mr. Kline said. "Understanding Mount Washington is very complicated. So many parts are different from each other…It is complex because it is so hilly."

Ms. Brill said the area did not attract as many families as other neighborhoods. Mr. Hartling suggested this might be because families often move to less densely populated flat areas.

Only 16 per cent of the Mount's population is under the age of 16, in comparison to the rest of Pittsburgh having 20 percent, said Mr. Hartling, whose firm specialized in compiling demographics.

The neighborhood has more than 40 percent single persons and more than 20 percent childless couples.

Mr. Hartling said 56 percent of the Mount are homeowners and 44 percent are renters. In comparison, in Pittsburgh 52 percent are homeowners.

"The range of prices for properties are astounding," Mr. Hartling said. One home a family bought from the city sold for $3,900. Another property with a great view of downtown sold for $895,000.

Ms. Brill said she wanted to hear from residents who had good or bad experiences with tree planting.

She also wanted to know how the area parks affected residents' lives.

The consultants are trying to understand how the traffic patterns and bus routings affect the neighborhoods.

The MWCDC plans to expand and enhance the trail network for its parks during a 17-20 year period and the consultants consider that an important factor for study.

"In the next decade the trails may be the reason why people buy homes here," said Chuck Wallace, from Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith's office.

Other new projects include Sweetbriar Village, South Hills Retirement Residence and One Grandview Avenue.

The trio of guest speakers asked attendees to fill out forms suggesting names for what they described as "micro-neighborhoods" within Mount Washington and to identify the issues affecting these sections.

They plan to attend a membership forum meeting in May for more discussion.

Mrs. Kail-Smith, in other business, reported on a recent meeting with developer Craig Cozza, whose two properties along Grandview Avenue have been topics of discussion at many MWCDC meetings because nearby residents consider them undeveloped eyesores. Also attending this meeting were Mr. Wallace, Mr. Beichner and representatives from the city's Zoning and Bureau of Building Inspections departments.

"I know you have history with him and you're skeptical," Mrs. Kail-Smith said. "But you either have to work with him or you have to look at the lots for another 10 years."

Mr. Cozza is seeking the city's help in securing funding for developing the properties and also wants to find in-vestors and partners for the projects, Mr. Beichner said.

Mrs. Kail-Smith and Mr. Beichner said they felt they were able to work with him because they don't "have as much history with him as you do."

"I don't have as much anger," Mrs. Kail-Smith said.

"Anything you might say to badger him, he has heard before. It is not going to help," Mr. Beichner said.

Mrs. Kail-Smith also discussed the proposed strip club planning to open on West Carson Street near the Duquesne Incline. She said she and council were concerned that residents were initially denied due process during the proceedings. She added that information has been given to the district attorney and federal attorney general's office for investigation.

Another guest speaker, John Bazari, was introduced by MWCDC board president J.T. Smith as "one of our neighborhood's best developers."

He wants to develop the former Boggs Avenue School into 12-14 "luxury" market rate apartments. He has not purchased the property from the school district yet. The outside of the building would remain intact but there would be new doors and windows.

He estimated the planning and construction might take a year.

"Come back and show us the designs," said Georgia Blotzer, a MWCDC member.

 

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