South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Margaret L. Smykla
Contributing Writer 

Mt. Oliver City block watch considers name change, updated on farm project


Sarah Baxendell (center), project manager for the Hilltop Alliance, leads a group of Alliance and Allegheny Land Trust Board members on a tour of the former St. Clair Village site. The property is proposed for an urban farm and 120 units for-sale homes and rental units.

The status of the proposed Hilltop Farm & Homes development on the former 556-unit St. Clair Village housing site was the focus of the May 26 meeting of the Mt. Oliver City/St. Clair Block Watch.

The meeting began with block watch coordinator Suzanne Photos asking for ideas for a new name for the organization. A new name will be voted on at a later date.

She asked for a volunteer to run the block watch's participation in the National Night Out on Tuesday, Aug. 2.

Next, crime prevention Officer Christine Luffey asked attendees to inform her of any police-related issues.

Among the issues raised was motorists driving the wrong way on Parkwood St., and the location of abandoned cars.  Regarding the cars, she said she would pass the information on to the officer in charge.

Officer Luffey reported the new mini-library at Mountain and Fisher streets was vandalized and books were torn apart.

In response, she knocked on nearby doors, and learned students who attend the Arlington elementary school catch the bus on that corner. Neighbors suspected those youngsters of the vandalism.

"This is on our radar.  All shifts are aware of it," Officer Luffey said.

She planned to go to the school the next day and talk to the principal, and get the names and addresses of the suspected students.

"We're going to stop this," she said.

An attendee said she and other parents wanted a crossing guard at that corner, but it never occurred.  She said such behavior, such as what happened to the mini-library, results when there is no supervision.

On the topic of libraries, city Councilman Bruce Kraus reported the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh's Knoxville branch will celebrate its grand reopening at 10 a.m. on June 25.

It has been closed for $3.5 million in renovations since last June.

"It's unlike anything you can imagine," he said.

He also said he would write a letter of support for posting a crossing guard at the corner of Mountain and Fisher streets.

Next, the city's chief operations officer, Guy Costa, said a paving program is being developed.  While some area streets are on the short list, the neighborhood cannot get all that it wants due to finances, he said.

In discussing the proposed Hilltop Farm & Homes development, Aaron Sukenik, executive director of the Hilltop Alliance, said there is a "solid plan" that has been in front of city officials.

It includes a 20-acre non-profit farm with 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.

Regarding housing, the site will have two- and three-bedroom single-family townhouses: 60 for-sale homes and 60 rental units.

Mr. Kraus said the main stumbling block today to the project getting the go-ahead is differing opinions on the value of the land, which is federally owned property.

The Housing Authority believes it has the proper estimate, while the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh (URA) has its own estimate, and the two numbers do not match.

Negotiation is underway of a price to transfer the property, he said.

Once a price is agreed upon that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) will approve, the property will be transferred to the URA.

The Allegheny Land Trust (ALT) would hold about 60 percent of the acreage for conservation and trail networks.

The ALT would then lease the farm area to the Hilltop Alliance, which would operate the farm programs.

To a question about a time frame, Mr. Costa said in dealing with the federal government, everything takes time.

"It's not going to happen overnight.

"It depends on what HUD will allow to happen on that property," he said.

Mr. Costa said developments take years, referencing the Greenfield Bridge project which began 16 years ago.

Mr. Kraus said he would bring representatives of the URA and the Housing Authority to the block watch's Sept. 22 meeting.

"We really have confidence that this is going to go through," Ms. Photos said.

To an attendee's comment that dumping is occurring at the site, Mr. Costa said he will look into it as the Housing Authority might be storing items there.

To a comment about high weeds on the site, Mr. Costa said he will pass that on to the city's maintenance personnel.

Sarah Baxendell, project manager, greenspace asset development for the Hilltop Alliance, said she has attended numerous community meetings on the proposed project, and encountered great local support.

"We know we have these hurdles, and need to work together to overcome.

"We really believe this is possible," she said.

To a question of what the community can do to help, Grant Gittlen, the city's manager of the Office of Community Affairs, said to email comments to him at:

On another topic, an attendee asked about the route of school buses for the Philip Murray school building, which is reopening for the 2016-2017 school year.

The two buildings the Arlington students now attend would close.

Mr. Kraus said city officials do not have authority over the school board.

But he will have a school board representative at a future block watch meeting.


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