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Mt. Oliver St. Clair block watch wants to make a difference

 

Sarah Beth Martin

Brothers Bob (front) and Paul Baumgart examine a City of Pittsburgh Department of Planning map, trying to decipher the parameters that separate Mount Oliver City of Pittsburgh/St. Clair from Mount Oliver Borough.

The Mount Oliver City of Pittsburgh/St. Clair Block Watch didn’t stick to its usual routine last week.

Though its bi-monthly agenda typically spotlights guest speakers from local government, law enforcement or other public services, block watch co-coordinator Lynn Staab said the purpose of Thursday night’s meeting was to give a voice to another group: community residents.

Indeed, community residents did speak up after Ms. Staab opened the floor to discussion about the types of projects the block watch should push for next year.

“There is public funding available for our community,” she said, “but we need to present well-planned, organized projects in order to get it.”

Curb appeal and a cleaner, safer living environment were the project goals residents raised. Several citizens mentioned sidewalks and lots with excessive overgrowth, clutter and debris as areas for improvement, noting that such spots not only look bad but also pose safety risks.

“People are walking on the street instead of on the sidewalk, because the sidewalk is buried under so much overgrowth that you can’t even tell it’s there,” said one City of Pittsburgh resident, in reference to conditions on St. Joseph Street.

There was cross-talk about other ordeals on St. Joseph Street, such as a fence that needs repainted and the state of the lot where the American Legion used to sit. That lot, according to residents’ comments, attracts children for play, but is a dangerous site because of poison ivy plants and the amount of refuse found there.

Community resident James Matschner brought up issues of visibility and transit along the corner of St. Joseph and Ottillia streets, where the tight intersection presents problems.

Mr. Matschner noted the street and bus signs on the corner are down, and speculated that they were knocked over by buses attempting to make the turn.

“When cars park close to the corner [or close to the corner across the street], the bus doesn’t have enough room to turn,” he said. “Sometimes, it’ll just sit there and blow its horn until someone comes out to move the car. If no one comes out, it’ll keep backing up to make the turn and, when it does, it runs into the signs.”

Other times, Mr. Matschner remarked, the city has come out to tow cars from the scene.

The downed signs are unattractive and confusing to visitors, and the parking situation has caused public transportation delays and noise disturbances that numerous residents said they’d like to see the city remedy by resituating the signs and updating and enforcing parking regulations at that particular junction.

Moving away from St. Joseph Street, the group went on to discuss more general neighborhood concerns, including neglected residential properties and noncompliance with “garbage night” ordinance rules.

Both of these concerns require community members to be proactive, make complaints and follow through with their complaints, Ms. Staab concluded. As far as neglected residential properties, she said the block watch needs to target those properties that are continuing nuisances by calling 311 and reporting them, and following up on the initial 311 calls.

When it came to talk of trash, residents said they’ve frequently observed a community-wide mess, where some people put their trash out too early, or on the wrong day, and don’t remove it.

“Critters, raccoons, dogs… They get into the bags and tear them apart, leaving trash all over the sidewalk and street,” Mr. Matschner contended.

To this, Ms. Staab proffered a two-prong solution. First, she proposed the block watch should distribute a flyer throughout the community with the trash collection calendar and an explanation of the day/time stipulations of the ordinance, along with a description of the penalties for violation thereof.

Secondly, she said residents need to take action, by reporting offending addresses to the agency that issues citations for these types of violations.

Ms. Staab also said she wishes for another type of action, or, rather, interaction. Noting Mount Oliver Borough police and City of Pittsburgh police work hand-in-hand to regulate criminal matters, Ms. Staab said she’d like to see Mount Oliver Borough and Mount Oliver City residents work hand-in-hand to regulate community matters.

“If the police can do it, why can’t we?” she asked.

City and borough are divided on Ottillia Street, Ms. Staab explained, but the boundaries of each zone are so close activities and conditions in one zone indubitably affect activities and conditions in the other. To address common goals, problems and projects, she indicated the communities should work together.

“If we team up,” she said, “we can really make a difference.”

Whether or not such an association arises, Ms. Staab asserted she and her fellow co-coordinator Suzanne Photos, who was absent from Thursday’s meeting, are committed to making a difference in the Mount Oliver City of Pittsburgh/St. Clair region.

Both women attended the Hilltop Summit on Nov. 27, said Ms. Staab, where representatives from seven communities and the Hilltop Alliance convened to share photos and testimony of the projects they accomplished in 2012. Ms. Staab commented the progress of these neighboring communities inspired her to push even harder to develop and accomplish the block watch’s 2013 goals.

Ms. Staab said she will compile a list of goals from her meeting notes, and will publish them in the block watch’s next mailer newsletter.

To close the discussion, she issued a call to the public, asking residents in attendance to spread the word that the list of goals will not be absolute. She said she wants residents to add to that list and to make it more specific, so she can tailor forthcoming projects to meet the strict standards involved in the application for, and receipt of, government funding.

 

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