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Latest Hilltop farm plans explained at Mount Oliver City Block Watch


The Hilltop farm proposed for the site of the former St. Clair Village will include a CSA farm, an orchard, community and incubator plots and a 200-person capacity events barn. The property will also include 60 market rate for sale homes and another 60 rental units.

The proposed Hilltop Farm Master Plan was the main focus of the Jan. 28 meeting of the Mt. Oliver City/St. Clair Block Watch held in the Ormsby Avenue Cafe. The meeting drew about 80 attendees.

Aaron Sukenik, executive director of the Hilltop Alliance, and Sarah Baxendell, project manager, greenspace asset development for the Hilltop Alliance, spoke about the proposed urban farm on the former St. Clair Village site.

While the project has yet to receive approval from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Mr. Sukenik said he is hoping to have the okay within the next eight months.

The former 556-unit St. Clair Village housing project was demolished in 2010, and has set vacant since.

None of the current homes in the neighborhood will be touched or moved by the project.

The proposed 20-acre non-profit Hilltop Farm would include a farm market building, three-acre community supported agriculture farm (CSA), one-acre production orchard, community garden, farmer incubation program, youth farm, 200-person events barn, and more.

The site design includes green infrastructure, on-site stormwater management, native and edible landscape, and energy efficient buildings.

Ms. Baxendell said the farm market building will house a seasonal farmers market for the community to access fresh produce and farm-based education. A goal is to eventually build a 32' by 80' bioshelter off the building.

The CSA will include a one-acre fruit tree orchard of apple, pear, and peach trees.

The farmer incubation program will consist of 16 incubation plots.

There will be a greenhouse, two high tunnels, equipment barn, and indoor production space.

In the community garden area, residents may get a plot to grow what they want for a fee.

The three youth farming areas will operate separately for different age groups.

Ms. Baxendell said there will new high fencing to keep deer out consisting of wooden posts with plastic between posts.

Another major component of the site will be an events barn that can be rented for a fee for weddings, conferences, or other gatherings.

To a question of whether there will be space for arts-and-crafts displays and sales, she said there are no plans at this time, but that she is open to the idea.

Regarding housing, Mr. Sukenik said the site will have two- and three-bedroom single-family townhouses: 60 for-sale homes and 60 rental units. Over the next seven to 15 years, the rentals will transition to sale.

The homes will not all look alike as there will be some exterior variety.

The revenues from the homes, along with the proceedings from event barn rentals, will subsidize the farm.

An attendee said she does not want a duplicate of what occurred in the housing project, and its negative neighborhood impact.

Mr. Sukenik said there will be background checks and the requisite proof of income. There is no plan to take vouchers at this time, he said.

Mr. Sukenik said the homes are open to everyone, although the cost may be prohibitive to low-income families: an 1,100-square-foot living area would cost $1,100 per month.

Purchase price for homes would range from $235,000 to $285,000. The plan is to petition for no taxes for the first 10 years.

To a question about project financing, Mr. Sukenik said officials are meeting with foundations, lenders, and others.

"Everyone is really excited about this plan," he said.

The meeting began with Michael McNamara, contracts manager for the Pittsburgh Public Schools, delivering a brief overview of the upcoming reopening/renovation of the Philip Murray School building in Mt. Oliver, which closed in 2012.

The plan is to relocate Pittsburgh Arlington students to the building for the 2016-2017 school year. The two school buildings the Arlington students now attend would close.

The Philip Murray building is larger than these two buildings combined, and would cost less to operate.

The renovation includes updated cafeteria, gym, auditorium, and more. The facility will have air conditioning and energy-efficient lighting.

The improved learning environment will feature interactive whiteboards in every classroom, and a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) lab.

Mr. McNamara said the completion goal is July 1, after which tours will be conducted.

To a question about bussing, Mr. McNamara said that is being worked on by the transportation department.

To a question about whether students will be "locked in" or free to wander the neighborhood, Mr. McNamara said he is not sure of the safety features. But students will not be wandering around.

Next, Zone 3 community relations Officer Christine Luffey reported on the crime statistics in the area from Dec. 1 to the present, which she called "low" with only a handful of incidents reported.

They include: a smashed rear window of a car on Parkwood St .; domestic violence on Mountain St .; and a kitchen fire on St. Joseph St.

An attendee said she was new to the area, and did not know who to call for help.

Officer Luffey said to call 911 for emergencies requiring immediate assistance from police, fire, or ambulance, and call 311, the non-emergency services number, for ongoing problems like high grass, abandoned cars, or any other violation.

To a question of what happens if someone shovels out a parking space and someone else takes the spot, Officer Luffey said the police cannot do anything.

While it is "common courtesy" not the take the spot, it is not against the law, she said.

To a question of whether one can save a spot with a chair or cone, she said it violates a city ordinance to do so.

The next Mt. Oliver City/St. Clair Block Watch meeting will be on March 24.


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