South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Margaret Smyka
Contributing Writer 

Kraus says restaurant bill buys time to look for long-term solution


City Councilman Bruce Kraus kicked off the January 12 meeting of the South Side Planning Forum with details of a city ordinance he introduced that day prohibiting new restaurants in the Carson St. corridor.

Its purpose, he said, is to provide a "short-term moratorium while we work toward a long-term solution" to the proliferation of bars and the ensuing rise in crime and decline in the quality-of-life for local residents.

The solution is not more police officers on the scene, he said, but a management plan based on responsible hospitality practices, many of which have proven successful in other cities.

To that end, he is working with universities to obtain funding to hold a Responsible Hospitality Institute (RHI) conference here as early as this summer.

The non-profit RHI promotes cooperation among those involved in hospitality, safety, and community development groups.

The RHI approach is communication, cooperation, consensus, commitment, and collaboration among stakeholders.

Cities that adopted this approach in hospitality zones — which East Carson St. is due to its number of liquor licenses and music venues — report a 100 percent increase in property values; increased transit ridership and crowd control after closing; significant increase in compliance with underage drinking laws; cleaner sidewalks and lower vacancy rates; and more.

A report on responsible hospitality practices was prepared by Bryan Woll while a staff intern in Mr. Kraus' office last summer.

In it, Mr. Woll states that nearly 75 percent of all arrests in the South Side are between 11 p.m. and 4 a.m.

The report has been a topic of recent forum meetings as members were to ask their respective groups if they wanted to take action on any of the 150 recommendations presented in it.

The need for a management plan was glaringly apparent the past weekend, said Mr. Kraus, when a South Side resident was allegedly assaulted in the early morning by a city firefighter after complaining about someone in the firefighter's group urinating in his yard.

Also, a recent New York Times article stated Carnegie Mellon University researchers in need of intoxicated subjects for an alcohol consumption study went to East Carson St. in search of them.

Zone 3 Commander Catherine McNeilly, who was in attendance, agreed with Mr. Kraus that the police force does not have sufficient resources to manage the problems already present in the South Side.

Mr. Kraus said since he has been in office, the South Side nightlife has experienced: a stabbing; a person shot four times; a door person killed; a patron shot by an off-duty police officer; and a person killed following a high-speed car chase with police.

"Make a justification that this is not out of control," he said.

An ordinance similar to the one introduced that day, but which limited the number of establishments with liquor licenses, was tossed out in December by Common Pleas Judge Joseph James. He ruled the city does not have the authority to regulate alcohol. The city is appealing.

Since Judge James' decision, four applications for liquor licenses in the South Side have been filed.

Mr. Kraus met with Larry Baumiller, of the city Law Department, who said he regards the new ordinance as more effective as it will be upheld without the alcohol language.

At the state level, city council and Mayor Ravenstahl support House Bill 115, said Mr. Kraus, which returns the power to municipalities to regulate the transfer of liquor licenses.

At the conclusion of his presentation forum member Aaron Sukenik asked if members should discuss the new ordinance with their respective organizations, to which Mr. Kraus said yes.

Next, Jane Miller, director of community and government relations for Mercy Behavioral Health (MBH), said the non-profit organization has been on the South Side for 35 years.

Five years ago, it moved from Wharton and 21st streets to the former Equitable Gas site on South 9th St. for more space.

The proposed plan is to build a three-story, 36,000-square-feet building off South 9th St. near the railroad tracks on the same site where MBH's three buildings are located.

The first floor would contain doctors and dentists offices, while the second floor would have administrative offices.

The third floor would contain 16 apartments which would serve as permanent housing for formerly homeless people. The residents' physical and mental health needs will be addressed, and they will receive vocational training.

The program will be operated by Operation Safety Net, which is part of the Pittsburgh Mercy Health System, as is MBH.

To a question of who will monitor the apartment-dwellers, Bob Adamson, director of behavioral health and lead staff person on the development, said the 16 residents will have an association, so they will govern themselves to a degree.

A paid staff will oversee them, and a safety officer will be present seven days a week. There will also be nurses and social workers providing around-the-clock coverage.

There will be on-site parking.

The hope is to have the apartments ready late this year.

MBH officials have met with the South Side LDC and South Side Community Council, and will be contacting nearby residents and businesses about the proposal. Flyers will also be distributed in the neighborhood.

The city has not yet been approached about the plan as MBH wanted to inform nearby individuals and businesses first.

Mrs. Miller said MBH wants to remain good neighbors as "we love where we are."

Next, in her brief remarks, Commander McNeilly said "There is much too much activity, and not enough officers on duty," regarding South Side as an entertainment area.

Besides more officers, what is also needed are cameras from the 1000 to 3000 blocks of Carson St.

Money is allocated for cameras for the "Carson St. corridor" by the Public Safety director as the zone's first priority, she said. But they are not up yet.

A couple of years ago she was told that no matter what other cameras are on the street, such as those of a bank, they all "could be meshed into one network." But she has not received the new technology.

While cameras at Heinz Field, USX, South Hills Junction, Station Square and other sites help a bit, she said, the most benefit would come from cameras on Carson St., Brownsville Rd., Warrington Ave., Grandview Ave., and other central corridors.

Mr. Brannan said the forum would advocate for those cameras.

She plans to return for the February 9 forum meeting and bring crime statistics.

In the monthly LTV report, Judy Dyda, manager of community planning at the South Side LDC, reported that Phase II of Riverfront Park is 95 percent completed.

The URA Board approved a $15,000 study, through the South Side LDC, of the shopping areas of East Carson St., SouthSide Works, and Station Square to make sure businesses are not competing with each other, but are complementing one another as they compete with the region as a whole.

The study is expected to begin in early February, and be completed by May.

An extended-stay, six-story, 130-room Hyatt Summerfield Suites hotel is in the works in the vicinity of Hot Metal and Water streets.

Officials have been to the LDC Design Committee, and will return this month to address committee concerns.

The hope is to start construction in late spring, with a mid-2011 opening.

In other news, the restaurants, Adobe Gila's and Shady Grove, are not coming. The building they were planned for at the corner of Sidney and 28th streets is now being considered for retail and offices.

Toby Keith's country-themed "I Love This Bar & Grill" is delaying final construction documents pending obtaining financing. It is planned for a site west of the Hofbrauhaus where a Doc Hotel was originally planned.

Joseph-Beth Booksellers is downsizing: from 23,000-square-feet to 12,000-square-feet by moving into Z Gallerie space.

At the meeting's conclusion, forum members agreed that next month's meeting would have no presentations. Instead, the meeting will be devoted solely to discussing the issues raised by Mr. Kraus: responsible hospitality practices, the new ordinance on restaurants, and the Mayor's Advisory Committee on the South Side, the latter whose work is completed.

The next forum meeting will be on February 9.


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