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Mayor visits Hilltop


Mayor Bill Peduto answer questions at Warrington Recreation center.

Bill Peduto celebrated his first 100 days in office by staging a Mayor's Night Out at the Warrington Recreation Center offering city residents an opportunity to address the mayor with their concerns.

Attending the meeting with Mr. Peduto were more than a dozen of his directors and top staff members. After taking the questions and answering to the best of his ability, he would pass off the questions for a more in-depth response from his staff members.

Before taking questions, the mayor spoke briefly about investment in city neighborhoods. He said they are looking at two critical things in neighborhoods: home ownership and reinvestment in neighborhood business districts.

Members of his team tasked to address those issues were Dr. Curtis Porter, chief education and neighborhood reinvestment officer, and Valerie McDonald-Roberts, chief urban affairs officer.

"We are targeting in about 12 neighborhoods," Mr. Peduto said. "And the reason we say 'about 12' is that we're looking at the entire Hilltop as one."

The mayor said what this means, is the Hilltop is one of only a dozen neighborhoods the city is focusing in on and about one-third of the Mayor's Office staff is being dedicated to this new bureau.

The Hilltop needs a CDC (community development corporation) that collectively has the capacity to go after funding through federal, state and private investment along with foundation support he said.

"So when we have a main street manager, now Aaron (Sukenik, executive director of the Hilltop Alliance) has somebody he can go to directly so we can start to put together plans for Warrington Avenue. Looking and mapping out exactly what is there," he said.

Among the things they will be able to look at in the focus areas, is housing. Instead of just looking for developers to build new houses, they want to look at refurbishing the existing housing stock. This could provide an opportunity for people who are currently renting homes to be able to purchase a home in the communities.

The Mayor's Office initiative will also offer support to non-profits working in the neighborhoods on the "front lines." They will also be looking at education programs.

First to offer a question from the standing room only crowd was Judy Hackel, vice-president of the Allentown Community Development Corp. She expressed concerns with loitering on Warrington Avenue in the business district.

Public Safety Director Michael Huss said he knew it was an ongoing issue on Warrington Avenue for a long time.

"We try to balance people's rights with what the community wants," he said. Director Huss added he's ridden with police officers through the neighborhood and did some "stop and talks" with people.

Zone 3 Lt. Larry Scirotto said bike officers stationed at the zone will be starting this week to do quality of life patrols through many of the 14 neighborhoods in the zone. Last year, the bike and foot patrols were effective in the neighborhoods, but were discontinued when the weather turned colder.

Jackie Wilson from Beltzhoover told the mayor about her problems with a dog attack against her elderly mother last year in McKinley Park. She said although the dog's owner was found guilty and ordered to pay court costs, fines and restitution associated with filing suit, her mother hasn't received any money.

Ms. Wilson asked if there was any kind of legislation that could be put through to garnish the wages of persons who were ordered by the courts to pay court costs. She said there's nothing to force them to pay the restitution.

"We don't put people in jail if they don't have the money to pay the fines," said Lourdes Sanchez-Ridge, city solicitor.

However, she added, "there's something called contempt, and the judge can enforce that."

She said about two weeks ago, they were able to put someone in jail for contempt for failing to pay fines concerning a building inspection case.

Ms. Sanchez-Ridge recommended Ms. Wilson go back to the magistrate who made the ruling and tell them they haven't received payment yet.

Jonathan Valsic, owner of alla Famiglia on Warrington Avenue, expressed his concerns to the mayor about situations that are impacting his business: he asked if something could be done about the loitering and public drinking on Warrington Avenue, along with the excessive littering and an extreme use of profanity.

He also mentioned the Hilltop Housing Initiative, a housing development originally slated to build more than 60 homes in the Beltzhoover Avenue corridor.

"I was sold that it was going to be this beautiful Normal Rockwell neighborhood and I decided to take a chance on it," he said. "I bought into it. Only one other person bought into it."

Of the original 60 plus homes to be built, only eight were actually built and only two were sold at full price he said.

Mr. Vlasic wanted to know what was being done so the same mistakes weren't made again with the project and if some relief could be provided for the two people who bought their houses at the full price.

The mayor noted there are recently completed plans for a housing strategy in the Hilltop and asked Mr. Sukenik to share some of those plans.

"That's something we with the Hilltop Alliance (are working on) and in the coming years specifically in Allentown and then Beltzhoover will be building off the strengths of Mount Washington and the (South Side) Slopes. We're going to try and build up a market in residential renovations so it's strong enough to absorb the price that new builds cost.

"Those units (Hilltop Homes) were heavily subsidized. Right now with funding being tight for those sorts of projects, that sort of subsidy on a single-family property you're looking at probably $100,000, $150,000 on a new build. So right now we're going to focus on residential rehab renovation for existing homeowners and try to get some properties out that are very bad landlords as well."

Later in the meeting, Kelli Organ, Beltzhoover a resident who said she's the "go to" person with young people, took exception to the complaints about loitering on Warrington Avenue.

"As far as the loitering goes, nine times out of ten those are my children. I don't believe that more police force will help that. It'll just put them in Shuman or in jail and that's not solving that," she said.

Ms. Organ asked the city to instead of sending the police, to work with her in getting programs for the kids, jobs for the kids.

"These kids, they're not dangerous, they're not scary, they don't mean to disrupt your business. It's just they have nothing to do," she said.

Ms. McDonald-Roberts replied she and Dr. Porter are working with the summer youth employment program. They recently formed a task force to not only provide more programing, but better programing for youth.


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