South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Margaret Smyka
Contributing Writer 

Still another contentious So. Side Planning Forum concerning the NID vote


April 17, 2012

To maintain the integrity of the South Side Planning Forum process, a vote on a controversial Neighborhood Improvement District (NID) within the South Side Flats was postponed until next month.

That was the upshot of the forum's April 10 meeting during which proceedings were frequently halted by angry outbursts from audience members opposed to the NID. Two city police officers in attendance at the meeting were in the back of the room.

In a NID, property owners agree to a self-imposed annual fee for services which supplement those provided by the city, such as a security team and street cleaning.

Supporters view it as a means to secure quality-of-life services in light of the neighborhood's prolific number of drinking establishments.

Opponents decry it as double taxation, calling instead for a tax on bar patrons or on the bars, among other options.

The issue arose when neighborhood outreach coordinator Susie Puskar reported during her NID steering committee report that the committee met last week with city officials, including Councilman Bruce Kraus.

Christine Gaus, of the Brashear Association, asked if a reexamination of the plan had occurred, as Ms. Puskar stated at last month's forum meeting that it would.

Ms. Puskar responded the committee continues to work with Mr. Kraus and others to arrive at consensus.

Then, because a motion was made to vote on the Feb. 14 version of the plan, Ms. Gaus stated last month's commitment to reexamine the plan had not been concluded.

How can we vote on a plan that is not concluded? she asked.

Ms. Gaus said once the forum reaches consensus to submit the plan to city council, the forum loses control and cannot make changes. She asked if they were "jumping the gun" with a vote that evening.

Paul Lorincy, of the South Side Slopes Neighborhood Association, said no final plan will ever come down.

"This body washes its hands of the plan and passes it to council?" asked Ms. Gaus.

Forum chair Hugh Brannan asked Ms. Puskar if the steering committee recommended a vote tonight.

She said no, and that the steering committee is open to what the forum decides.

In light of the 14-month process thus far, "What's one more?" Ms. Gaus asked.

"No objection was raised at the last meeting for a reexamination of the plan," she said.

Mr. Brannan said last month the forum agreed it would reexamine the plan.

"That work is still underway," he said.

Commenting next, Mr. Kraus said he remained neutral on the NID controversy so each side has equal representation, and a platform to express themselves. So far, he has given no feedback on any version of the plan, nor has he been asked to take any action.

To an attendee's question of what will he do if there is a consensus among all forum organizations to proceed with the NID process, Mr. Kraus said he would ask for time to do his own process, which includes going to the county and the city law department to fully understand the issue.

He will eventually present an opinion in public and in writing, weighing both sides of the issue.

An attendee said the forum representatives are not listening to the residents, which is why they are turning to the councilman.

Mr. Kraus said he was listening to everyone.

"I am trying to be respectful of the process," he said.

The forum then voted unanimously on a new motion -- that a final plan, with or without revisions, will be voted on at the May 8 meeting.

The matter concluded with Mr. Brannan instructing the steering committee to report back between now and May 8 with a new plan, or else the Feb. 14 plan will remain on the table. Either way, a vote will occur on May 8.

In the neighborhood plan update, Judy Dyda said the South Side Neighborhood Plan is the official planning document for the community, and must be referred to in development and zoning decisions.

The plan was originally adopted by the planning forum in 1990, and is regularly updated.

The eighth revision, which will be voted on for adoption by the planning forum in May or June, is a "transitional plan" as it acknowledges the dissolution of the South Side Local Development Company on June 30, 2012.

The neighborhood plan committee consists of representatives from the five voting organizations of the planning forum: the Brashear Association, South Side Community Council, South Side Chamber of Commerce, South Side Slopes Neighborhood Association, and South Side Local Development Company.

The committee met more than 24 times over the last nine months, and with the organizations' presidents three times.

The committee agreed on a format that more clearly defines issues by these categories: overarching issues, historic preservation issues, greenspace issues, housing issues, business development issues, night-time entertainment issues, parking issues, infrastructure and maintenance issues, social service issues, and neighborhood realities.

In the South Side Works update, Ms. Dyda said the LTV Steering Committee and the South Side LDC Design Committee merged into the Redevelopment Review Committee (RCC).

Its purpose is to monitor proposed development to ensure the architectural and historic integrity of the neighborhood is maintained.

Meetings are held at the Brashear Center at 6 p.m. on the last Thursday of the month.

At the last meeting of the RRC, Casey's bar received design advice on repairing and extending its deck. The owner will go to the Historic Review Committee prior to appearing before the downtown Historic Review Commission.

In other news, the CSX project to raise Tunnel Park has begun. The project will raise the roof on the railroad tunnel beneath the park to allow train traffic with double-stack container carriers.

Marina work continues, and construction on the new hotel is underway.

bd's Mongolian Grill opened at 428 S. 27th St. on the former site of the Ann Taylor Loft.

The next forum meeting will be on May 8.


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