South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Margaret L. Smykla
Contributing Writer 

New Division 4, urban farm work days discussed on Hilltop


January 30, 2018

Topics discussed at the Jan. 25 meeting of the Mt. Oliver City/St. Clair Community Group included local crime, urban farm work days, a new Public Works’ 4th Division building, and the annual Biscuits Bingo fundraiser for local animal organizations.

The meeting was held in the Ormsby Avenue Café.

Community relations officer Christine Luffey began by reporting that the neighborhood crime statistics from Dec. 1 until that evening consisted of only three incidents, “which is a really good thing.”

In one incident, a woman reported gouges in her bumper. The responding officer said someone did make scratches.

Another incident was a burglary of jewelry and tools from an Ormsby residence. An ex-husband is suspected.

The third incident was a burglary, which Officer Luffey gave as an example of “being a good neighbor.”

A woman, who said her neighbors did not speak English very well, called the police when she spotted another neighbor stealing from them.

As the burglar was walking down the steps carrying the stolen items he dropped them, and the woman quickly took a photograph.

“That’s a really good neighbor.

“Pictures don’t lie,” she said.

In questions/comments, an attendee said a car speeds by his house in the early morning at about 80 miles per hour and through stop signs at Ottillia and St. Joseph streets, among others.

Officer Luffey said she would notify night turn officers.

To a question about abandoned cars, she said residents should report them if the inspection and emissions stickers are expired. An officer will come out and check the license plate through the system.

Next, Aaron Sukenik, executive director of the Hilltop Alliance, said the Mt. Oliver City/St. Clair Community Group changed its name last year from the Mt. Oliver City/St. Clair Block Watch to be more reflective of all of the community work the organization is engaged in.

He said an ordinance was introduced in the city recently regarding “registered community organizations.”

If granted that status, the organization will be seen as the official conduit of city information to the community.

The criteria for the designation includes being registered as a 501(c)3 nonprofit in good standing with the state, or else having an affiliation with such a corporation, which it has with the Hilltop Alliance, he said.

Other criteria include: having bylaws, a mission statement, geographic boundaries, elections and term limits, and more.

Mr. Sukenik said the key is having an eight-member steering committee. Anyone interested in serving as a member should contact the Hilltop Alliance or group coordinator Suzanne Photos.

In the urban farm project report, Sarah Baxendell, project manager, greenspace asset development for the Hilltop Alliance, and who conducted the meeting in the absence of Ms. Photos, introduced intern Austin Schlechter, who will be working as a farm volunteer for the next few months.

In updates, she said work days will be held at the urban farm on the former St. Clair Village site from 9 a.m. to Noon on April 14, May 5, June 9, July 14, Aug. 11, Sept. 15, and Oct. 13. Volunteers should simply show up and sign a waiver in case of injury.

Updates can be followed on the farm on Facebook @HilltopUrbanFarmPGH, and on Instagram @HilltopUrbanFarm.

In other farm news, funding was obtained to build a youth farm, with additional grants submitted for more funding.

On Jan. 11, a five percent giveback day at all three local Whole Foods stores resulted in $17,000 to build a plastic greenhouse.

In the evening’s final presentation, city Councilman Bruce Kraus discussed Public Works’ 4th Division facility on Bausman St. in Knoxville which became “uninhabitable” as the building was toxic and unhealthy, and no longer viable.

A commissioned study determined that one heavy snowfall could collapse the building. The unused building is now scheduled to be demolished in February, but with its notable architectural features removed.

Over the last decade attempts to relocate operations were unsuccessful, with the latest a potential move to the former St. Clair Village. However, the urban farm took over the site, and the site is federally owned property, which raises more problems.

So late last year it was decided that Division 3 would take over one-half of the Division 4 responsibilities, and Division 5 would take over the other half.

Mr. Kraus said the hope was not to make the change at the start of snow removal so personnel could get used to the roads, but that did not occur, and he received many calls from the Mt. Oliver City area about unplowed roads.

To address this problem, Mayor Peduto recently announced that a new Division 4 building would open on a location to be determined by July. The commissioned study recommended to rebuild on the same site, but no decision has been made.

A possibility is a pre-fab structure that could be assembled quickly.

To a question about 311, an attendee said she was told there are extended hours.

Mr. Kraus said the hours are being adjusted as some hours experience very little calls.

“Customer-friendly” is the goal, he said.

To a question about potholes, he said he met the prior day with Karina Ricks, director of the city’s Mobility and Infrastructure Dept., to discuss the area’s primary roads needing repairs in the shortest time. He will do so again when the weather clears in a few months.

The meeting concluded with the announcement that the 20th annual “Biscuits Bingo” fundraiser for local animal organizations, and presented by the Pittsburgh Police, will be held on March 3 at the IBEW Hall Local #5, 5 Hot Metal St., South Side. 

Doors open at 10 a.m., and bingo starts at noon. Admission is $25 cash, and tickets can only be purchased at the door or online at

Attendees are encouraged to bring a pet food item to donate and to qualify to play a special game.

There are about 600 attendees each year. Last year, 75 people were turned away due to lack of space.

Officer Luffey said there will be refreshments, drawings, Chinese auction, gift baskets, and more. She will also conduct a $1 raffle with 200 prizes.

Last year, $35,000 was raised. Almost one-half million dollars has been raised throughout the years with Biscuits Bingo.

For more information, contact Officer Luffey at 412-488-8425 or email

“All the pets I ever had were rescue,” she said.

Last year was a tough year for officers’ dealing with animal abuse, she said, such as a Lawrenceville home with 42 living and 50 dead cats.

She said a hoarder’s home with 50 animals can be dangerous due to the ammonia, the levels of which rise. She said neighbors smell the ammonia and call the police.

This winter has also been hard for officers, she said, as they responded to numerous calls about dogs left outside in frigid temperatures.

She said the new state animal cruelty laws upgraded misdemeanors to felonies.

Pet owners cannot leave animals outside for more than 30 minutes when the temperature falls below 32 degrees or over 90 degrees.

“I expect us to treat animals better,” she said.

The next community group meeting will be on March 22.


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