South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Margaret Smyka
Contributing Writer 

URA chief wants more accountability, customer service from city government


January 15, 2008

A visit from Pat Ford, executive director of the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh, highlighted the Jan. 8 meeting of the South Sides Slopes Neighborhood Association.

Mr. Ford also oversees City Planning and the Bureau of Building Inspection, and is chair of the Housing Authority.

He returned to Pittsburgh a few years ago to work for Mayor O'Connor as director of city planning. He stayed on in the Ravenstahl administration.

He said three things missing in city government are accountability, poor customer service and decision making by too few people. He made it his charge to address these.

Regarding the URA, Mr. Ford said it is his opinion that the agency "hasn't been the city's URA." Instead of trying to "bring in homerun businesses," he said, it should help residents and businesses already here.

A past practice in city government was applying intervention strategies to the neighborhoods that made the most noise. Today, the initiative "neighborhood vitality index" is employed to determine which neighborhoods need help the most.

Another new practice is having two ombudsmen in the URA to handle crisis situations which arise daily somewhere in the city. They have the authority to address problems, and can be reached by calling 311.

To a question about whether the city has money to repair the public steps on the Slopes, Mr. Ford said he would look into it.

Judy Dyda said some Elm Street funds will be used for the repair of some city steps. As such, the Elm Street Committee would like the city to put money into other Slopes' steps not eligible for Elm Street funding.

Bev Boggio said the SSSNA designed StepTrek to draw the city's attention to the public stairways. She hoped Mr. Ford realized how important the steps are to the members of the SSSNA and neighborhood.

To a complaint about a seven-unit development of townhouses at the corner of Eleanor and Holt streets, Mr. Ford said the SSSNA may use the ombudsman in his office to help navigate the process.

The "neighborhood planner" assigned to the Slopes should be consulted, as should agendas prepared well in advance of hearings.

"We're trying to change the way business has been done historically in Pittsburgh," he said.

To a further complaint that the construction plan approved for the townhouses is not being followed, he said he would put out a "stop work" order if that is indeed the case.

The building, referred to as a "monster" by attendees, is also blocking views of the city. The Slopes does not have view protection, as does Mt. Washington.

"If the rules permit this, we must change the rules," he said of structures hindering the view.

Another attendee complained about a zoning board of adjustment problem. He said a developer, in need of a variance, went to a meeting with an attorney. "It all changes when you bring an attorney," he said, as the developer got his way.

Mr. Ford said if, after the protocol he just outlined is followed, then he can intervene and work something out without legal counsel.

A resident also complained about the lack of parking spaces on Pius St. as some houses have four college students living in them, and each with their own cars.

Councilman Bruce Kraus said parents nowadays are buying houses for their college-age children and friends to live in. Once they graduate, the houses are sold. In the meantime, each student in the home has his own car.

Mr. Ford said the mayor and Parking Authority want to resurrect again the issue of residential permit parking.

Regarding the closed Neville Ice Arena, Ms. Dyda said the Elm Street committee would like to hire an engineering firm for an assessment of the site and its equipment. But the firm would need access to the building as it is a city-owned facility. Ms. Dyda suggested entering into a lease agreement with the city.

Mr. Ford said he would email responses to all the issues raised that evening within ten days.

The meeting began with the presentation of a check from PNC to the Slopes for $3,000. The grant will help fund the website and a mass mailing.

In her brief summary of the South Side Planning Forum meeting held prior to the Slopes' meeting, Ms. Dyda said a draft of the neighborhood plan revision was distributed to committee members last month. By March, a final document will, hopefully, be adopted.

The draft can be viewed on the South Side LDC's website,

She also reported that Steve Root of the South Side Community Council wants all local organizations to come together to remove and prevent graffiti on the South Side. The group is called Graffiti Watch.

In other news, the Pittsburgh Public Schools are again soliciting bids on the sale of the South Vo-Tech building. A round of bidding two years ago garnered no bids.

This time, the minimum acceptable bid on the building is $500,000. Bids are due by Jan. 29. The bids, which are public documents, will be available to the forum for review. The South Vo-Tech building is one of 22 closed schools the district is hoping to sell.

The next SSSNA meeting will on Feb. 12 at 7 p.m. at the St. Paul of the Cross Retreat Center.


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