City commission was right, South Side needs more help
January 30, 2007
The Pittsburgh Planning Commission's decision against the proposed legislation to limit the number of bars throughout the city in Local Neighborhood Commercial districts shouldn't be seen as a defeat for the residents of South Side.
The legislation, while aimed at the making sure fewer liquor licenses could be brought into the Carson Street corridor, would have prevented many of those same liquor licenses from locating in many neighborhoods throughout the city in the 40 to 50 other LNC districts. The planning commission rightly recognized that this was a problem limited to South Side and should not be seen and reacted to as a citywide problem.
It was evident from those who testified at the hearing that while the rest of the city was sympathetic to the problems of the South Side, they didn't want to be punished by preventing the influx of new businesses. In particular, business organizations didn't want restaurants looking elsewhere in the county because they wouldn't be allowed to open with a liquor license in their preferred location in the city.
The Planning Commission instead chose to charge the Mayor's office and the city with finding a better solution to the problem.
Everyone who lives on the South Side or even visits the neighborhood on a weekend evening (and the weekends now start on Thursdays along E. Carson Street) knows what the problems are: unruly revelers, litter, graffiti, noise and parking. Many South Siders often feel like prisoners in their own homes, knowing that if they leave on the weekends they risk having to park their vehicles blocks away from their homes.
The proposed change in zoning would do nothing in the immediate or foreseeable future to change the situation in the neighborhood. Although the zoning would prevent any more liquor licenses from locating within 150 feet of the lot size of existing bars and restaurants serving liquor, it would do nothing about the number of bars already located in the South Side. All the bars along East Carson Street would be permitted to remain and should the owners decide to sell, the liquor license would be allowed to remain in place with the new owners.
City planners in drafting the legislation looked at the change in zoning as a long term solution to the problem of overcrowding. It was their hope that in ten or 20 years the normal change in use for buildings would cause some bars to move out of the South Side.
Unfortunately, the South Side can't wait ten or 20 years for relief from the problems associated with not so much the overcrowding of bars, but the overcrowding of patrons and their unacceptable behavior.
During her brief tenure in the South Side, Commander RaShall Brackney began to make inroads into the problems with the problem bars and their customers. Early on she met with a group of bar and restaurant owners in a non-adversarial informational session to explain what she expected from them and what they could expect from the police.
Unfortunately, as with many things in life, many of the responsible owners came to the meeting while the problem bars failed to send a representative. The commander took to making personal visits to what were considered to be some of the most neighborhood unfriendly places in South Side. Working with the owners, she was able to make great strides in solving some of the problems.
Commander Brackney was also able to facilitate an increase in DUI roving and stationary checkpoints in the South Side area resulting in a dramatic increase in DUI arrests last year. The new commander of Zone 3, Larry Ross, is planning to continue many if not all of the initiatives begun by Commander Brackney.
Given the limited resources of the police and the size of Zone 3, almost one-third of the city, it isn't going to be enough. The South Side has become the city's, if not the county's playground for twenty-somethings to come and party.
City Council recognized the value of the South Side when it voted to allow more and higher condos on the South Side despite the objection of virtually all community groups in the neighborhood. They choose to have the economic boost of a developer selling high end condos over the neighborhoods wishes.
Now it's time for city officials to step up and devote resources to one of the few growing neighborhoods in the city to find a solution to their quality of life issues. An immediate solution that won't take ten or 20 years to find out that it didn't work and was time to try something else.
Soon if not already, the potential buyers of the high end homes will take a ride down East Carson Street on a Friday night and decide that $500,000 is too much to pay to have someone urinating in their shrubs.