By Margaret L. Smykla
Contributing Writer 

Residents urged to be vocal about issues in their neighorhood


Community group coordinator Suzanne Photos began the May 25 meeting of the Mt. Oliver City/St. Clair Community Group with the reminder to be vigilant if observing drug dealing, abandoned cars, and more, and call 911.

The meeting was held in the Ormsby Avenue Café.

She also announced that a community-wide clean-up and gardening event will be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on June 9. Volunteers should gather at the corner of Mountain Ave. and Fisher St.

The gardening will occur at that corner, and at St. Joseph’s Garden and the so-called Patti’s Corner.

There will be lunch at 1 p.m. at the Ormsby Avenue Café. Volunteers should bring water, and wear closed-toe shoes.

In other news, an attendee said the Department of Public Works’ Division 4 building on Bausman St. was condemned, and therefore its operations may be assigned elsewhere.

Attendees were urged to the call the Mayor’s Office to request that the 4th Division’s facility remain in the area.

Ms. Photos said it is especially important now to have Public Works nearby with the coming of the urban farm on the former St. Clair Village site, and which will require services.

“You have to be vocal,” she said.

In her presentation, Zone 3 community relations Officer Christine Luffey relayed the “good news” of low neighborhood crime statistics from March 23 to that day.

The report consisted of burglaries, criminal mischief, simple assaults, and theft.

As she has been receiving a lot of calls about traffic and the running of stop signs in the area, she sent traffic enforcement, including motorcycle officers.

A tip for the summer is that crime increases when the weather warms, and neighborhood disputes rise. She said after 24 years on the job, she is still surprised at how some people treat others.

Officer Luffey said to call her at Zone 3 if she can be of help. Residents should also call 911.

Ottillia St. resident Barbara Keener, who is also a Mt. Oliver council member, said while the borough has a small force, its officers or city officers will respond to 911 calls.

She said a frequent complaint is the running of stop signs by the former Phillip Murray School, which reopened this year as Arlington PreK-8. She added the only road in and out of the facility is too narrow for busses.

Bus drivers have to drive partially on sidewalks, which makes it especially hazardous for walkers, and is ruining sidewalks.

She suggested attendees contact officials about putting in another road to the school.

Mrs. Keener also reported that Columbia Gas will be installing new lines on Ottillia St., starting when school is out. The work will continue through November.

To a question about Officer Nathan Auvil and his camera project, Officer Luffey said he is compiling a list of private cameras for an interactive map.

If there is a crime in an area, officials can look on the map to see if there are cameras in the area that may be of use.

He is looking for volunteers in the Mt. Oliver City area to compile a list of private cameras for the map.

The cameras could serve two purposes: if criminals know the police have access it might cut down on crimes; and cameras could help solve crimes.

To a complaint about a school van speeding by twice a day with students aboard, Officer Luffey said to jot down the name or number or license plate number, and she will call the company.

There was also a complaint about a new neighborhood crossing guard who simply stands at the crossing without helping the children cross safely. Officer Luffey said to call and report him, and that he might lack training.

Next, Sarah Baxendell, project manager, greenspace asset development for the Hilltop Alliance, gave an urban farm update.

She said while there is no start date yet, the process is in the last stage of the land transfer. The hope is that soil work can begin this summer.

To a question of why it is taking so long for the project to get underway, she said the transfer of federal property into a public/private partnership takes time. The plan is 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.

Ms. Baxendell urged attendees to keep calling the Mayor’s Office to express their support for the urban farm project.

To a request for a Penn State update, she said she and Aaron Sukenik, executive director of the Hilltop Alliance, travelled to Penn State to give talks to agricultural officials about the opportunities at the site, such as becoming a partner on the farming aspect.

The result is that main campus Penn State will be a partner. Tours will be conducted with them, and farming programs, which the university already offers, will expand to include the urban farm. Funding will be from grants, foundations, and more.

Ms. Baxendell said when the soil is broken, it will be the largest urban farm in the U.S.

Ms. Photos said residents must also stay involved and informed as the housing on the site will “be a big deal.”

Of the site’s 40 flat acres, 23 acres will be for farming, and the rest for townhouses.

In closing announcements, Mrs. Keener reminded everyone that Mt. Oliver borough’s celebration of its 125th Anniversary of incorporation will be held from 2 to 8 p.m. on Aug. 5 at Transverse Park.

The next community group meeting will be in September.


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