South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Margaret L. Smykla
Contributing Writer 

Progress slowed on urban farm while HUD considers sale


A new name emerged from the Sept. 22 meeting of the Mt. Oliver City/St. Clair Block Watch: the organization will now be known as the Mt. Oliver City/St. Clair Community Group. Attendees voted to adopt a broader name that would encompass the broader community work that the organization is involved with.

The meeting was held in the Ormsby Avenue Café.

Group coordinator Suzanne Photos said she needs two adult monitors to volunteer for the Oct. 22 neighborhood cleanup. The work involves leading youths around the neighborhood with trash bags to clean up.

Next, community relations Officer Christine Luffey said very little crime occurred in the neighborhood in the past two months. As of that day, there were five police reports since Aug. 1 “which is remarkable,” she said.

Those reports were for: accident; false report; harassment; ID theft; and theft.

She reminded attendees about the annual “Get Stuffed With Love’’ program that ensures no residents go without a traditional turkey dinner on Thanksgiving.

It will be her ninth year of involvement in the delivery of free, warm meals on Thanksgiving Day. Last year, 2,630 meals were delivered city wide.

“I bet we hit three thousand this year,” she said.

There are no income or age requirements, and everyone in need in the city of Pittsburgh is eligible.

Residents requesting the free meals should call Officer Luffey at 412-488-8425 and leave their name, phone number, and number of dinners. Contact her to volunteer for meal preparations and more.

Officer Luffey also reported she will bring to the next meeting the abused dog she adopted recently from the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society.

“She was a living skeleton when I rescued her,” she said.

She will also be taking the dog to schools to teach children that animal abuse will not be tolerated.

Next, 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.

Funding for the project is from the Hillman Foundation and the PNC Foundation.

Mr. Sukenik said there are no new developments in the plan for the Housing Authority to sell the property to the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh (URA). As the land is owned by the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the sale must be conducted under HUD guidelines, which delays the process.

The good news is the legal work is underway for an extended site access agreement to do the first year of soil rebuilding activity.

Ms. Baxendell said it would allow for these activities, where needed, across a 12-acre site: cutting the grass; taking down hazardous trees and making wood chips; sub-soil plowing; and spraying compost and then seeds over the soil.

Mr. Sukenik said if the site agreement is signed within a month, the tilling and wood chipping could take place this year, but not the composting due to the weather. The latter would have to wait until spring.

Access to the site will allow for planning, but not building any actual structures.

Mr. Sukenik said combining this project with the hillside acreage and the Hays Woods area could make the neighborhood the largest “green zone” in the city.

Next, regarding the urban farm, city Councilman Bruce Kraus said the transfer of federal property into a public/private partnership takes time.

“It’s not for lack of trying,” he said, but complex legalities are involved.

On another topic, he said the most calls he receives are about garbage. The next highest complaint is about neglected, overgrown property.

He asked attendees to give him or Ms. Photos the addresses of those properties and the reference number assigned to the 311 call. The same goes for abandoned cars, and their locations.

To a question about the illegal dumping of building materials, Mr. Kraus said to call 911 as it is a crime. Jot down the license number and the make of vehicle, if possible.

Ms. Photos told attendees to get more involved in their neighborhood by attending the Zone 3 Public Safety Council meetings, which are held at 6 p.m. on the third Mondays. The site varies, but mostly they are held in the Zone 3 police station.

“They are very informative,” she said.

She also said a Boys and Girls Club is needed on the Hilltop.

Mr. Kraus said he met that day with the city budget personnel. As the city is in good financial shape, it is time to invest in our children.

He also said two new police training classes began, and the mayor wants to increase the force to 900 officers.

The city contracted with Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC) in North Side as a site for the classes as the longtime Washington Blvd. site was in terrible condition, he said.

“Training police officers is the most important thing we do,” he said.

The city also offers a free Pittsburgh Citizen’s Police Academy which offers residents a behind-the-scenes look at what police do, like how fingerprints are taken. Participants are also taught the basics of criminal law, search and seizure, patrol tactics, firearms, and more.

Mr. Kraus said paving lists are currently being compiled. He said for residents to give him or Ms. Photos their choices for streets that need paved. He also rides around his entire district to find the streets in the worst condition.

He said he hopes to have the paving begin in March.

Ms. Photos will also send him a list of city steps needing work as they are crumbling, she said.


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