South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Margaret L. Smykla
Contributing Writer 

Mt. O. City learns about possible area urban farm

 


Updates on current and potential projects highlighted the Nov. 20 meeting of the Mount Oliver City/Saint Clair Block Watch held in the Ormsby Avenue Cafe.

Block watch coordinator Suzanne Photos said the city told her it would cost $3,900 for the proper lighting of the flagpole at the intersection of Mountain Ave. and Wagner St. The monthly energy costs would be $22 per month.

Ms. Photos put in an application with Duquesne Light for the company to fund the $3,900 as the city will not pay the cost. She has not heard back yet on the request.

Ms. Photos has called the flagpole display the “Gateway to the Hilltop” from Becks Run Road.

Next, she reported that the Bishop Leonard Regional Catholic School on Ormsby Ave. had been sold to the owners of the Ormsby Avenue Café, Kevin and Kristen Delacour.

Mr. Delacour, who was in attendance, said a zoning change is needed to proceed with his plans.

His preliminary plan for the building is mixed use on the first floor to bring in some businesses, like professional offices. On the second and third floors there will be market rate apartments.

“It is going to take some time,” he said.

For the immediate future, he is focused on the vandalism and litter at the site.

“I am making an effort to improve the neighborhood,” he said.

“We’re excited about it,” he added of the project.

Next, Aaron Sukenik, executive director of the Hilltop Alliance, discussed a tentative revitalization plan for the former Saint Clair Village and adjacent neighborhood.

The proposed “Hilltop Village Farm” would be a farm incubator, small youth farm, community supported agriculture (CSA), community greenspace, special farm events, restoration of native landscape, and more. The $28 million project would also include 60 for sale townhouses and duplexes, and 60 rental units on the site.

An agricultural usage on the site is in the idea stage as there is no site agreement with the Pittsburgh Housing Authority or the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which owns the property.

“We are currently pursuing site control with the Housing Authority and HUD, and the process is expected to take a year.

“The Allegheny Land Trust would acquire the site, and hold 60 percent of acreage for conservation and trail networks.

“They would lease the farm area to the Hilltop Alliance, which would operate the non-profit farm programs,” Mr. Sukenik said.

As it will be expensive, the Hilltop Alliance will only be able to fund the 10-acre farm operations by being an equity partner in the housing development, and selling CSA shares to new homeowners. Green Development LLC would be the development partner with the Hilltop Alliance for the housing.

The office of Mayor Bill Peduto has been very supportive of the proposal, Mr. Sukenik said.

The farm incubator would consist of quarter-acre plots that can be leased on an annual basis by anyone, with preference for Hilltop residents.

In a CSA farm, a farm sells stock. A purchaser of the stock receives a dividend which is part of the farmer’s entire harvest.

As with the farm incubator, preference would be for Hilltop residents.

For those who live in the new site houses, one share of stock would be built into the rent rate. Those who buy houses would also receive one share.

Mr. Sukenik said he has yet to find a larger farm within city limits in the U.S., that is, once this is completed.

The former 556-unit St. Clair Village housing project was demolished in 2010, and has sat vacant since.

In relaying the history of the project, Mr. Sukenik said it is an outgrowth of the Hilltop Alliance’s 2012 Green Toolbox Assessment in which all green space in ten of the Hilltop communities was inventoried.

The upshot was the identification of three major features of the area: not enough access to fresh fruits; numerous vacant parcels on the Hilltop; and massive green spaces in the former Saint Clair Village and part of Arlington Heights.

The Hilltop Village Farm would include housing, Mr. Sukenik said, to restore the population and attract new families. The housing would also restore home value to existing home values which have declined by close to half in the past decade.

It would also provide a land conservation-based housing concept to Pittsburgh, and bring recognition to the Hilltop.

The for-sale homes would consist of two- and three-bedroom townhouses and duplexes with expected sale prices of $200,000 to $250,000. There would be a home owners association.

There would also be 60 rental units of two- and three-bedrooms ranging from $1,100 to $1,400 per month. The range is considered affordable for families who make under 80 percent of area median income, he said.

Mr. Sukenik said the next step is to keep working to acquire the property. Soil testing on the site will occur shortly, followed by putting together a final site plan.

There will also be a capital campaign for fundraising for start-up costs for the farm, like equipment and soil. Most of the cost will be for topsoil and soil rehabilitation, which he estimated at $500,000.

To a question of why all of this is being done without first securing approval, Mr. Sukenik said otherwise, once a sales agreement is reached, it would take an extra year to begin the project.

The next block watch meeting will be in January at the Ormsby Avenue Cafe.

 

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