South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Tom Smith
South Pittsburgh Reporter Editor 

Allentown highlights Next Three Days, potential new homes

 


Positive developments in Allentown highlighted the April meeting of the Allentown CDC (ACDC) at the Black Forge Coffee House last week.

Siena Kane, Warrington Avenue business district manager, began her short presentation by introducing Jill Lavella, new owner of Amsler Pharmacy, and identifying several new businesses in the neighborhood. Recent openings included Breakfast at Shelly’s and Academy Pittsburgh.

Additional businesses and organizations coming soon to Warrington Avenue include: Public Source, an investigative news organization; concert promoter Super Monkey; and, Stuart Day Guitars, specializing in guitar building, repairing and sales.

Next Three Days (N3D) will also be coming to Allentown on June 17-19. A three-day festival, Ms. Kane explained there will be a “party” atmosphere on Warrington Avenue on Friday night of the event; Additional happenings at Grandview Park on Saturday; and, a homebuyers’ workshop on Sunday.

N3D will be held in conjunction with the City of Pittsburgh, the Urban Redevelopment Authority and Next Pittsburgh. Before the event there will be additional community meetings to garner support and suggestions from area residents and business owners.

Those interested in participating in N3D may contact Ms. Kane at 412-586-5807 or siena@pghhilltopalliance.org.

Daniel Bull, representing Zero Six Eight, spoke briefly about a proposed new housing project for Arlington Avenue in Allentown. He explained drawings weren’t available yet because they are still exploring how many houses can be built on the site. Recently, a zoning hearing was held requesting as many as 12 homes on the property. A decision by the Zoning Board is expected in about a month.

“Our site is at the very entrance to Allentown. It’s gorgeous,” Mr. Bull said. “I can’t believe a view like that is underutilized.”

He said they were at the meeting to make themselves more familiar to the community and would be back to present the plans and ask for input on materials and designs for the new homes.

Some of the organizations working on the project include Zero Six Eight, which works exclusively with “the previously incarcerated.”

“We’re not just building houses. We’re using those houses to build futures,” Mr. Bull said. The houses are built in a factory in South Side in conjunction with Work Pittsburgh, a work force development program and construction company.

At Work Pittsburgh, skilled journeymen carpenters are brought in to train the men to build the prefab modular homes. While learning a skill, the men are also earning a living.

By building the modules in the South Side factory, they are able to lessen the impact on the community where the homes are being built and also able to keep the men working year-round and not just during the construction season.

“Arlington Avenue is our flagship project for this entire workforce development initiative. It’s what we’re going to tell East Liberty about…it’s what we’re going to tell all the other people. It’s going to happen here, with your permission and with your help and we want you to be part of the design, the technology we put in to this and the price point we should be aiming for so we’re not putting million dollar condos at the entrance. We want to be right,” Mr. Bull said.

He added that a third of their workforce are Allentown residents, formerly incarcerated.

To a question about cost savings of stick-building vs. modular, Mr. Bull said there was about a 15-20 percent savings. He added, most people don’t take the savings, but use that money to increase the amenities in the home.

Another side benefit of the modular factory building, was that the workers only had to go to one location, not to job sites all over the city.

Moving on, Bob Kress from the St. George Church Preservation Society (SGCPS) provided an update on the organization’s progress to preserve the former church recently closed by the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

The previous Sunday had been the closing Mass at the church with 796 people in attendance.

“It was a sad event and disappointing,” Mr. Kress said. “But the point we’re making is the closing Mass isn’t necessarily the last Mass.”

The SGCPS has appealed the closing to Rome to reverse the decision. In the appeal they outlined their plan to support the church and hold weekly services.

He said once the church is reopened, they will ask the diocese to outsource the maintenance of the church to the society. They not only plan to care for the church, but also restore it.

The appeal included a five-year plan on care and maintenance, prioritizing the most needed repairs first.

Mr. Kress said the appeal to the Congregation of the Clergy in Rome generally takes six months to a year before a decision is made.

He said before the church was closed, almost 350 people were attending Mass each week and donating four times the amount needed to “keep the lights on.” Included in his expense estimates were the cost of insurance, utilities, trash and snow removal and more.

“We think we can make it work, if they outsource the care of the building to our organization, pay the diocese for spiritual guidance,” Mr. Kress said. “These are the kind of arrangements we’ve seen in other parts of the country.”

In the meantime, the diocese has installed a security system at the church and has begun to board up the doors and windows.

“Our real challenge now is keeping our parishioners together since we won’t see each other every Sunday,” he said. The society will use a mailing list of 900 and an email list of another 400 to keep former parishioners informed.

In the meantime, while they are waiting a decision from Rome, the society is holding another fundraiser. On Sunday, April 24, 2016 at 4 p.m. the SGCPS will present a showing of “Roustabout” starring Elvis Presley and Barbara Stanwyk at the Hollywood Theater in Dormont. “Roustabout” was the last movie shown at the Capital Theater on the corner of Warrington and Beltzhoover avenues.

Donation is $20. Ticket sales are online at Showclix.com (search St. George) and at the door.

He said the church was also recently nominated for historic status with the Pittsburgh Historic Review Commission for both the stained glass windows and the building.

For the latest information on SGCPS’s progress and events, visit their Facebook page.

In the public comment portion of the meeting, McClain Street residents expressed their concerns about a property they would like demolished on their street. The Allentown CDC has opposed demolition of any property in the neighborhood that is not a health or safety issue.

Residents’ concerns included a porch that appears ready to collapse and that the house hasn’t been sealed to prevent area kids from entering. They would like the house demolished and the property used as a community garden or side yard for one of the neighbors.

The Hilltop Alliance and the Mount Washington Community Development Corp. have been working to acquire a number of tax delinquent properties in Allentown and have them renovated and sold to owners who would like to move into the neighborhood.

After a contentious discussion, the ACDC and Hilltop Alliance agreed to provide a timeline when the neighbors could expect the property to be acquired and renovated. In the meantime, they will work toward getting the property secured and the porch stabilized or demolished.

 

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