South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Margaret L. Smykla
Contributing Writer 

S.S. Planning Forum history, mission and purpose explained

 

September 18, 2018



The history and function of the South Side Planning Forum and the South Side Neighborhood Plan were at the heart of the special annual meeting of the Planning Forum on Sept. 11.

There were also brief updates on the South Side Parking Enhancement District (PED) and the East Carson St. business district strategy.

Planning Forum chair Hugh Brannan said the genesis in 1985 of the organization was that South Siders needed to get together to talk about a big problem: Parking.

It did not take long, however, for the realization to emerge that the neighborhood had other pressing issues. As a result, in 1985, it was decided to craft a neighborhood plan.

The plan took five years to complete as a unanimous vote among forum member organizations to adopt had to take place in order for the plan, and its subsequent updates over the years, to pass.

In 1990, the neighborhood plan was submitted to Pittsburgh Mayor Sophie Masloff.

Mr. Brannan said that big issues over the years, like the East Carson St. historic designation, “was a major achievement on our part.”

When the URA brought the LTV site, the Planning Forum became part of the planning process as better options to say, riverboat gambling, were pursued. Housing, retail, entertainment, and more became the master plan of the SouthSide Works.

The Planning Forum developed policy guidelines for potential uses.

“We wanted to complement the rest of the community,” Mr. Brannan said.

Today, the Development Review Committee (DRC) meets with developers. The DRC, a standing committee within the Forum, monitors proposed development in the neighborhood to ensure the architectural and historic integrity of the neighborhood is maintained.

Mr. Brannan said the only time the community opposed a proposal for the South Side Works was for a hotel/condominium structure that was too high. The building was not constructed.

The process for developers is to go before the DRC, and then the Planning Forum. Forum member representatives report back to their organizations to see if there is agreement with the proposal. If one member organization is opposed, the Planning Forum does not take a stand.

The neighborhood plan has been revised ten times.

“We wanted to make sure what was done in 1990 was not just put on the shelf,” Mr. Brannan said.

Neighborhood Plan revision committee chair Tracy Myers said the plan is not a master plan, but rather “a vehicle for self-empowerment in the neighborhood.”

“We can’t force someone to do something they don’t want,” she said.

“These are policy guidelines that articulate what is important to us in the neighborhood,” she said.

Mr. Brannan said since 1985 the lines of communication among all member organizations and city government have been kept open.

Planning Forum meetings are open to the public on the second Tuesday of the month at 5:30 p.m. at the Brashear Center. There is no budget and no paid staff, he said.

To a question of how developers know to go to the DRC, Mr. Brannan said forum member groups were told to let developers know when projects come across their desks.

Ms. Myers, who is also chair of the DRC, said design review has been around more than 30 years. As construction began at the LTV site, the LTV Steering Committee was formed. When the South Side LDC dissolved, it was decided to merge steering committee into the DRC.

She said the DRC process can help a developer to make sure the project is appropriate to the neighborhood. If unsure about something, the developer will be directed to the appropriate organization.

“We can’t dictate design.

“We’re about saying ‘this is a good thing,’ not telling it to go away,” she said.

The meeting began with city Councilman Bruce Kraus providing an update on the PED, which is the enforcement of South Side Flats parking meters from 6 p.m. to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, and which began early last year.

The revenue from the South Side PED must be invested back in the neighborhood for public safety, cleanliness, and infrastructure improvements.

Block by Block, or a “Clean Team,” was recently retained for September-December to keep the area free of trash, litter, weeds, and more. The workers will also power-wash the sidewalks to rid them of gum, grease, and other detriments.

“Thousands of pieces of gum are stuck everywhere,” Mr. Kraus said of the sidewalks.

Block by Block personnel, in blue shirts, will be on the job Monday through Friday.

The cost is $11,000 per month. The PED is collecting $16,000 per month at the meters. Mr. Kraus said it has yet to be decided what Block By Block will do in January, and could provide services such as snow removal.

Already, high-resolution cameras were purchased for the Public Safety Department with PED funds for $24,000, and are up and running in the area.

A litter-eating machine is being considered, but with no commitment made. There will be an upcoming trial run of the machine. A complaint is that the machine is very noisy, Mr. Kraus said.

Due to the pending South Side streets projects construction, Christmas lights cannot be erected this year. However, he would like to use PED funds to buy quality Christmas lights that work well with the planned new lighting, and to pay for their erection and storage of the lights.

Construction work on Carson St. should begin in late September—early October.

The $12 million PennDOT work will consist of milling and overlay, traffic signals, ADA ramps, and safety improvements. The city will conduct its own streetscaping project from Smithfield St. to 25th St. It will include pedestrian lighting, street lighting at unsignalized intersections, street trees and furnishings, benches in heavily-used areas, new trash cans, and more.

To a question about litter pick-up on Saturday and Sunday mornings beginning at 3 a.m., Mr. Kraus said it has not yet begun. But the plan is for one or two Public Works employees to conduct clean-up on Carson St. on weekends starting at 3 a.m.

The funding for the Public Works employees will not be from PED funds.

Next, Josette Fitzgibbons, neighborhood business district manager for the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh (URA), presented a brief update on the East Carson St. business district strategy, for which a public workshop was held on July 12.

The workshop was the first step in developing strategies for East Carson St.

The URA and the city, along with several South Side community groups, have been working to develop a community-driven, three- to five-year business district blueprint for strengthening East Carson St. from S. 10th St. to S. 25th St.

The impetus for the study was that no one had looked at East Carson St. for a long time, she said.

Ms. Fitzgibbons was joined in the presentation by project manager Jamie Reese, of Fourth Economy, a national community and economic development consulting firm based in Pittsburgh.

Ms. Fitzgibbons said a draft report emerged from the strategy meeting. She will next meet with the 10-person steering committee to review the report again. A final report will be posted on the URA website at the end of September.

Over the past few months, surveys were conducted, such as what respondents would like to see on South Side; what they like/dislike about South Side; and more.

Recommendations included having unique specialty shops, like wine stores and a fresh food grocery. Breakfast and lunch sites were desired, as were wellness establishments and home furnishing stores.

For promotion, events to bring people to East Carson St. must be decided upon, as do marketing strategies.

A resident in attendance lamented the loss of ethnic festivals held years ago.

Ms. Reese said South Side (15203 zip code) leads job growth in the area with a 35 percent increase in jobs from 2005-2015, well above the seven percent of Pittsburgh and two percent for the market area (10-minute drive time).

The total effect of the nighttime economic outputs, directly and indirectly, is $304.1 million. Of that, $32.5 million is paid in taxes and parking fees to the city.

Despite the financial success, there are under-served categories: general merchandise stores, motor vehicle and parts dealers, gas stations, and furniture/home furnishings.

Ms. Reese said general merchandise stores are on the decline in the U.S. and it would be challenging to put one on East Carson St.

Ms. Fitzgibbons said there is no answer yet to the question of how to implement a comprehensive plan with so many groups and stakeholders and events and activities involved.

The next Planning Forum meeting will be on Oct. 9.

 

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