By Margaret L. Smykla
Contributing Writer 

Residents hear benefits of Alliance, Urban Farm update

New Division 4 should be running for winter 2020


Last updated 12/5/2019 at 8:40am

Crime statistics, urban farm news, and the Dept. of Public Works’ 4th Division site update were among the topics at the Nov. 21 general meeting of the Mt. Oliver City/St. Clair Community Group.

Speakers included City Councilman Bruce Kraus and Zone 3 community relations officer Christine Luffey.

In her report on the recent cleanup day and Halloween at the Park events, Jamie Pierson said 30 Pitt students helped clean up stairways, illegal dump sites, and trash in October.

The first Halloween event was marred by bad weather so it drew only a few youngsters.

Next, attendees were asked to complete a City of Pittsburgh confidential questionnaire to identify residents’ needs and fair housing concerns. The survey will help the city prepare its five-year consolidated plan, annual action plan, and its analysis of impediments to fair housing choice.

The surveys can be obtained at the OMB-Community Development Department, 200 Ross St., Suite 201.

The next speaker was Aaron Sukenik, executive director of the Hilltop Alliance. He reported that earlier this year the Hilltop urban farm, located on the former St. Clair Village site, became an independent 501(c)3 nonprofit entity.

Programs to assist eligible city homeowners include the Housing Opportunity Fund (HOF) which provides financial assistance for the rehabilitation and improvement of preexisting structures, such as roofs.

The Hilltop Alliance is a program administrator for the HOF.

There is also the Free Personal Wills Program for qualifying Hilltop homeowners, age 50 or older.

The purpose is to ensure their homes have a defined heir who will more easily be able to gain control of the properties and possibly receive financial assistance for home improvements after their loved one has died.

Next, Anthony Kobak introduced himself as the new city senior planner. He previously worked in planning in Ohio, for a total of 13 years of experience in the field.

In her Hilltop Urban Farm update, Ms. Pierson said 900 children were served there in 2019, and there were also 900 volunteers. The hope is to make the free children’s programs full day next year.

The youth farm program engages children from the Hilltop communities in food production, farming, and teamwork while promoting the teaching of nutrition, cooking, growing food, farming principles, and more.

The urban farm is also interested in farmers to garden or farm one-quarter acres next year.

Some mulch is available for community projects. Ms. Pierson said she is hoping for free mulch next summer for gardeners.

She also said the work is continuing on transitioning the urban farm into local hands.

The property is owned by the federal government as 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).

Next, Officer Luffey reported on the good news that only four crimes were reported in the neighborhood from Sept. 26 to today.

Those crimes were: one harassment on Ormsby Ave .; one theft from a business on Ormsby Ave .; a theft from a person on St. Joseph St .; and a search warrant on a suspected drug house on Cathedral Ave.

Regarding the latter, Officer Luffey said since July detectives have been watching a suspected drug dealer on Cathedral Ave. The police executed a search warrant and removed two digital scales, two surveillance cameras, guns, crack cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines, and more.

To a question about abandoned cars, Mr. Kraus said “I share your frustration. Our hands are tied by state law.”

For ongoing nuisance matters, he said to call 311. With 311 calls, always ask for a reference number so you can call back for an update.

But if a car is parked illegally, he said to call 911 to make the police aware of it.

If you don’t want a neighbor to see an officer coming by your house following a 911 call for fear of retaliation, ask the officer to stop by later or call later.

Complaints may also be reported anonymously.

Mr. Kraus said the complaint he receives the most calls about is no longer parking but property-related problems, like demolitions, abandoned lots, and more.

He plans on improved property management in the budget next year.

Regarding the Dept. of Public Works’ (DPW) 4th Division site redevelopment he said the new campus will be up and running for winter 2020.

DPW shut down the former Division 4 facility a few years ago when it became uninhabitable as the building was toxic and unhealthy, and no longer viable. Division 4 responsibilities have since been split between divisions 3 and 5.

The proposal for the site is to return part of Mathews Ave. to two-way and add a cul-de-sac at the bottom of the hill.

Only the 300 and 400 blocks of Mathews Ave. would be two-way – the rest would be one-way.

The proposed cul-de-sac would reduce Mathews Ave. traffic to local traffic only; allow DPW to secure the site; provide safety for DPW vehicles and employees maneuvering the site; and more.

Public meetings will continue to be held to gather feedback.

Mr. Kraus also reported salt boxes will be back. To a question of how locations will be prioritized, he said to inform the community group who will compile a list of preferences.

Next, Eric Williams, community liaison in the Office of Community Affairs, reported applications are open for the Love Your Block grants. Funds are available up to $1,500 for neighborhood improvement projects.

Funding supports volunteer-fueled neighborhood improvement projects that combat blight and build resilience. Projects may include community garden maintenance, neighborhood cleanup, tree/flower planting, and more.

Apply at until Jan. 31.

The community group plans to apply, but the project is undecided at the moment. Attendees were asked to write down ideas for projects and toss them into the room’s suggestion box.

The final item was replacement discussion about the flag and welcome sign at Mountain and Wagner.

Traffic mishaps destroyed the flag and flag pole, and a portion of the “Welcome to the Hilltop” sign was destroyed.

The consensus was to replace the items.

The next general meeting of the Mt. Oliver City/St. Clair Community Group will be on Jan. 23, 2020. For news on what is happening in the community, visit: .


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