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Residents could decide future of St. Clair Village site

Vacant site could be used for urban agriculture

 

Although now covered in snow, the former St. Clair Village housing project site could become a center for urban agriculture on the Hilltop. Area residents are asked to come out and offer their input on proposals for the site.

Local residents will have the opportunity to help decide what could become of the 115 acres of land once the site of St. Clair Village housing projects.

The Hilltop Alliance (HA), in cooperation with the Mt. Oliver City/St. Clair Block Watch, will hold a public meeting on Thursday, Feb. 20, 7 p.m. at the Lighthouse Cathedral, 810 Fisher Street, to gain input from the community on a possible project.

The former 556 unit housing project was demolished in 2010 and has sat vacant since.

The potential St. Clair project is an outgrowth of the Hilltop Alliance's 2012 Green Toolbox Assessment where they inventoried all green space in ten of the Hilltop Communities: Allentown, Arlington, Arlington Heights, Beltzhoover, Bon Air, Carrick, Knoxville, Mt. Oliver Borough, Mt. Oliver City and St. Clair.

Aaron Sukenik, executive director of the Hilltop Alliance explains three major things were identified coming out of the assessment:

The Hilltop communities were identified as a "fresh produce desert;"

There were a large number of vacant lots in the neighborhoods; and,

There were two massive green spaces in the former housing project that was St. Clair Village and what was left of Arlington Heights.

The Alliance started Fresh Fridays on the Hilltop to help get fresh produce to residents in the area. Partnering with the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, St. John Vianney Food Pantry, Brashear Association and with the support of member organizations, the HA provides as much as 40 pounds of fresh produce and other food items to Hilltop residents once a month from spring through fall.

They have been working with GTECH's ReClaim South Program to train 14 neighborhood volunteers, representing nearly every neighborhood on the Hilltop, to acquire vacant property, plant and maintain community gardens.

The third identified issue, the vacant land created by the demolishing of the Housing Authority's buildings on the Arlington and St. Clair properties, was looked at as a potential opportunity by the Alliance to activate the green spaces.

"One thing we learned from the Housing Authority was that these properties are not going to be vacant forever," Mr. Sukenik said.

He said many times a private developer will look at large tracts of land as isolated developments. By bringing the neighborhood into the decision making, Mr. Sukenik believes the former housing project can become a "true community asset" that will enhance the quality of life for all residents in the area.

"To say, 'I don't want anything to happen [on this property] isn't realistic," Mr. Sukenik said. "Something is going to happen."

To accomplish that goal and with full support of the Alliance's Board of Directors, Mr. Sukenik applied for funding from the Pittsburgh Partnership for Neighborhood Development to consider what would be feasible on the site. Grow Pittsburgh and the Penn State Cooperative were enlisted as partners to aid in doing an assessment of the project.

A steering committee was formed with representatives of the three organizations joined by civic leaders from the community and relevant public officials from the Housing Authority, City Council and Public Works, among others.

Mr. Sukenik said one of the most important things for the steering committee is to put together a community plan of phasing to activate the green space. Although, he believes some kind of urban agriculture will be at the core of the project whether it is growing vegetables or flowers.

Area residents are encouraged to attend the meeting on Thursday, Feb. 20, 7 p.m. at the Lighthouse Cathedral, 810 Fisher Street, to learn more about the project and to provide input.

More information about the Hilltop Alliance and its programs and projects is available online at: http://www.pghhilltopalliance.org.

 

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