By Margaret Smyka
Contributing Writer 

Neighborhood initiatives director answers questions on the Slopes


March 27, 2007

The city's newly appointed director of neighborhood initiatives, Kim Graziani, was the guest speaker at the March 20 meeting of the South Sides Slopes Neighborhood Association.

Besides answering questions, she said she would be taking attendees' concerns back to the Mayor's Office.

The meeting began with president Brad Palmisiano asking committee chairmen to give brief committee updates.

On zoning, Mr. Palmisiano reported that thanks to zoning changes through Map Pittsburgh, residential single unit zoning was applied throughout the neighborhood.

As a result, an attempt for a variance to split a home into two units was denied.

Next, Judy Dyda reported that Harrisburg officials are impressed with what they are doing in the Slopes with the Elm Street project. The funded proposal for the Slopes and four other neighborhoods has $220,000 for public realm improvements.

Ms. Dyda also said that litter surveys were mailed to residents within the Elm St. district soliciting input on litter improvements.

Regarding StepTrek 2007, Bev Boggio said the date will be scheduled after the Steeler schedule is released. But it will take place on a Sunday from noon to 4 p.m.

On Safety, Paul Lorincy reported that captains will soon be named for the 13 zones within the Slopes being devised for clean-up and other purposes.

Joe Ciccola, on the gardens, said the SSSNA's two Western Pennsylvania Conservancy gardens will be planted in May: the Josephine and Barry Street Garden on May 12, and the Josephine and Greeley Street Garden on May 26. Volunteers are needed.

Mr. Palmisiano said that Janice Serra was compiling a list of Public Works Department priorities, per the January meeting. Residents may also call 311 with non-emergency complaints and to report problems.

Next, Ms. Graziani fielded questions, with the first one from Ms. Serra asking for a status report on the 64-acre South Side Park which, she said, the SSSNA wants to preserve and improve.

Ms. Graziani said that a “request for proposal,” or RFP, had just been posted on the city's Website for the closed Neville Ice Arena and its parking lot, which are located within the South Side Park.

The RFP is for the reuse or redevelopment of the Neville Ice Arena. Proposals are being accepted until May 21, 2007.

Ms. Serra said her concern is how a developer is selected: who makes the decision, and on what criteria?

Ms. Graziani said decisions are made by a committee of representatives of various city departments. Councilman Jeff Koch is a member.

Mr. Koch said he would be the contact for the SSSNA, and that he prefers a recreational usage for the site.

He also said the icing system still works at the arena, and that a doctor in Allentown is interested in opening it as a rink again.

Ms. Serra said the SSSNA would like to see the general proposals as there was once an industrial usage proposal.

Ms. Graziani said there would be outreach to community groups to find out what they wanted at the site.

The community's wishes “will be strongly considered if not adopted,” in any decision, she said.

To a question about tax liens, Ms. Graziani said the city sold its tax portfolio of delinquents to a private company in the 1990s. But not many were sold as some properties carried as much as $30,000 in delinquent taxes.

At the end of 2006 the city bought back the liens to negotiate down the liens due to their importance to communities.

Community groups, for example, can buy a property at a reduced rate “to redevelop as they see fit,” said Ms. Graziani. The groups will then own the property. However, they will also be liable for it, and must pay for the demolition and taxes.

Before a sale is final through a treasurer's sale, the property owner has 90 days to pay the back taxes and reclaim the property.

To a question about the city policy on vacant derelict properties, she said that falls under the Bureau of Building Inspection (BBI), but any resident who sees such a property should call 311 as it “kick starts the process,” she said.

A building inspector will then look at the property. If it gets condemned, it can be placed on the demolition list. But it must be deemed a public safety hazard. She asked attendees for a list of top priorities for demolition.

To a complaint about a vacant property on Stromberg St. which is drawing field mice, Ms. Graziani said she would look into the matter.

To a complaint about the time lag by county court in serving warrants to those who don't pay their fines for property violations, Ms. Graziani said she hears this a lot in neighborhoods.

“It's a very serious issue, and we are working on it,” she said.

The attendee said she wants the mayor to set this issue as a priority.

To a question from a Pius St. resident about the lack of ample parking spaces due to multi-family units and “mini college dorms,” Ms. Graziani said she would have a city planner get back to him.

Mr. Palmisiano said he hoped the new zoning would improve the situation.

Ms. Graziani said an inspector can't enter a house unless invited, so it is a challenge to learn how many people are living there, and if they are related. No more than three unrelated people can reside in a unit.

As to whether a property is Section 8, privacy plays a role in making that determination.

To a question about the 311 process, she said a caller will receive a tracking number assigned to the call within the week. That way the caller can refer to the number when inquiring for a status update on the report.

She also said she generally receives a positive response to 311 at community group meetings.

The next SSSNA meeting will be a “Candidate's Night” on April 11.


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