January 17, 2012 |

New homes on 13th St., Local Review changes discussed at S.S. Forum

A presentation on new housing, and discussion of the role of the East Carson Street Local Review Committee (LRC) of the Historic Review Commission (HRC), led off the January 10 meeting of the South Side Planning Forum.

Dennis Huet, Heartland Custom Homes salesman and former builder, said his client plans to convert the former jail site at 13th and Sarah streets into three duplexes. The site is currently vacant.

The duplexes will be priced in the $350,000 range. Each will have two-car tandem garages; three bedrooms, 2.5 baths; and a third floor loft with rooftop deck.

Mr. Huet has been working with neighbors on the design, and was scheduled to present the revision neighbors prefer before the Zoning Board of Adjustment two days later.

"I think we have a very good rapport," he said of the neighborhood.

The hearing is for three variances: height, side yard setback, and rear yard setback.

(At the Jan. 12 hearing, no objections were raised to his requests, and Mr. Huet said he was confident it will be approved.)

The project will next go before the Design Review Committee on Jan. 26.

A ruling is expected from the Zoning Board of Adjustment within 30 to 45 days. If approved, it will take another 30 to 45 days to secure financing. One the project is bankrolled, ground will be broken with the project completed in 6 to 8 months.

In the next presentation, Bob Russ and Jerry Morosco, of the East Carson Street Local Review Committee, discussed how the role of the LRC has recently changed within the city. They wanted to readdress how the city can strengthen or recodify the role of the LRC; and, if the forum is in support of the LRC.

The volunteer LRC is an advisory committee to the Historic Review Committee, advising on the East Carson St. Historic District proposals for exterior renovations. The LRC always operated by the book in sticking with the HRC guidelines written by the city.

At one time, the applicant would fill out an application downtown to do something in the historic district, and the planner would be referred to the LRC. But in the past six months, the city has decided there was a conflict in the city ordinance that established LRCs.

As a result, applicants will not be compelled to contact the LRC, but rather it will be up to the LRC to contact the applicants based on their on-line postings.

The upshot is HRC hearings are longer and more complicated as applicants show up less compliant to guidelines.

Mr. Morosco said without an LRC, HRC volunteers are frequently asked to make decisions without seeing or knowing the neighborhood.

The forum may decide if it wants to take action, or communicate concerns to the city.

In the South Side Neighborhood Improvement District (SSNID) Steering Committee report, Susie Puskar said a presentation of the revised plan -- based on community feedback -- will be made at a forum meeting in a month or two.

She also said the SSNID board of directors will be elected by the members of the NID (those who pay the annual fee). It will be one vote per property; someone who owns 10 properties will receive 10 votes.

In a NID, property owners agree to a self-imposed annual fee for services which supplement those provided by the city, such as a security team, park maintenance, improved parking signage, and more.

For more information, visit the Steering Committee website at www.ssimprovementdistrict.com.

Those with questions about the NID or who would like to schedule a group meeting on the subject should contact Ms. Puskar at 412-481-0651, extension 11.

In the South Side Works update, Judy Dyda reported:

In the CSX project, Tunnel Park 1 has been excavated, while work on Tunnel Park 2 begins in January;

Phase IIIA of Riverfront Park is going through the punch list; the plan is to hold a grand opening event by Memorial Day. A new kiosk for bike rentals will be open by March;

A permanent solution is still being sought for the Riverfront Park maintenance issue. Foundation funds for maintenance are available for roughly the next two years;

The goal of the marina is to be fully operational by 2013;

While office space is 100 percent leased, retail continues to struggle;

The ice rink did well, and the Pens store is considering staying until the end of hockey season; and,

LA Fitness is very close to opening.

Next, new neighborhood planner Ashley Holloway, of Pittsburgh City Planning, introduced himself, stating he would attend forum meetings upon request.

He also said at 7 p.m. on Feb. 8 at the Brashear Center, a community meeting will be held to address residents' request for a "residential parking permit program" around the Armstrong Park area. The program helps alleviate non-residents from parking there during certain hours to free space for residents.

After the meeting, a petition will be sent to nearby residents. At least 70 percent of area households must vote yes for the effort to proceed. It must eventually go before the Planning Commission, and be approved by city council and the mayor.

At meeting's end, an audience member asked if the forum would be taking a stand on reassessments.

"This is just outrageous the way they are doing it," he said.

Forum chair Hugh Brannan said it would be addressed in the near future.

The next forum meeting will be on Feb. 14.

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