South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Margaret L. Smykla
Contributing Writer 

Slopes meeting concerned with speakeasys, E. Carson impovements

 

October 27, 2020



The Oct. 20 virtual Zoom general meeting of the South Side Slopes Neighborhood Association (SSSNA) featured discussion of speakeasies, the East Carson St. safety improvement project, and more.

The meeting began with Donna Tarkett detailing the ways to contact the organization: http://www.southsideslopes.org; info@southsideslopes.org; or 412-376-7373.

The first speaker was Zone 3 police Commander Karen Dixon, who reported an arrest was made in late August of a suspect in a July shooting by the Arlington spray park.

Earlier this month, a "Take Back the Park" event was held on a Saturday at the spray park with the mingling of officers and residents.

Commander Dixon next reported there was a 6.6 percent decrease in crime from last year. Property crimes had the biggest drop as homes are occupied by residents at all hours during COVID and therefore are not conducive to break-ins and vehicle thefts.

Regarding the unlicensed speakeasies for those who want to socialize/drink after 11 p.m. in defiance of COVID restrictions, the commander said a speakeasy at 38 Mt. Oliver St. caught fire a few weeks ago.

The problem was electrical. Four firefighters and an arson investigator were injured.

There is also a speakeasy in the former American Legion in the 1700 block of Arlington Ave. A speakeasy in the 1800 block of Brownsville Rd. in Carrick has been shut down.

None has a license to sell alcohol.

"It seems like we aren't doing anything but, believe me, we are," the commander said.

While they are continually fined for various infractions, like loud music, it does not seem to have an impact.

Very often the speakeasies are shut down, and then reopen, as no directive has been provided to local authorities by the governor's office on how to govern or enforce COVID.

The commander said there is a push for magistrates to consider giving offenders 10 days in county jail for speakeasy-related citations.

"Until there's a punishment..." she said.

City Councilman Bruce Kraus said he receives a call a day about the speakeasies.

"There are so many road blocks to local enforcement," he said, adding that the governor's office has not empowered local authorities to enforce COVID regulations.

Another problem is that the Liquor Control Board and the liquor control enforcement agency do not get involved as liquor licenses are not involved. The exception is sales to minors.

Speakeasies also skirt the law by charging one fee at the door, he said.

He thanked residents for taking photographs of the late-night activity in their neighborhoods.

Mr. Kraus said the emergence of speakeasies has been a big problem for police since about July 5. Since that date, it has been the primary issue he has worked on.

His fear is that local magistrates will dismiss the citations. He said he will need the public's support when the matter goes before the magistrates. Letters of support for stiff fines may also be sent to his office.

A resident commented that COVID is working against the residents as it keeps them from stacking the courtroom in these cases.

Next, regarding the $18 million East Carson St. safety improvement project to be carried out by the state Dept. of Transportation [PennDOT], construction has begun, and will last 18 months.

Project upgrades include: milling and resurfacing; signage and signal updates; ADA ramp and guiderail installations; high visibility crosswalks; new street signals and lighting; and more.

About six months are completed of the 18-month project, which will extend from the Smithfield St. Bridge to 33rd St.

The overall completion date for the project is spring of 2022.

Mr. Kraus said project discussion with PennDOT kicked off about nine years ago. He called it a "blessing" that this is happening at a time when streets are largely empty.

Regarding the federally-funded 18th St. signals upgrades for pedestrian safety, he said the 18th St. corridor will be under construction in early 2021.

The project involves 18th St. and: Brownsville Rd., Bausman St., Amanda St., Hays Ave., Arlington Ave., Pius St., Mission St., Josephine St., Jane St., and Sarah St.

The traffic signal upgrades include: gloss black signal poles; audible countdown pedestrian signals; and more.

He said there is a "good chance" both projects will come to fruition at the same time.

Next, Cara Jette discussed what being a Registered Community Organization (RCO) means.

The SSSNA recently became an RCO through the Department of City Planning.

The designation gives formal status to community organizations that register with the City of Pittsburgh, and provides benefits to those organizations.

The benefits include notification of public hearings, guaranteed meetings with developers/applicants, placement on official brochures, and more.

Meetings with developers occur through a development activities meeting (DAM), which the SSSNA scheduled for the next day regarding South Side Park.

A DAM provides an opportunity for citizens, property owners, business owners, and stakeholders to learn about the proposals that affect them and to resolve concerns at an early stage of the application process.

Meetings must be held at least 30 days prior to the applicant presenting to the Planning Commission, the Zoning Board of Adjustment, Art Commission, or Historic Review Commission (HRC).

In updates, Ms. Tarkett said goats were brought in twice to eat invasive species and vines in a portion of South Side Park.

"They did some good work this time," she said.

In the StepTrek update, Kristin Raup said this was the 20th year for the annual non-competitive, self-guided walking tour of the Slopes.

Due to social distancing, it was held week-long for the first time, from Oct. 1-7.

She said 313 tickets were sold. There was a $10 suggested donation, but many paid more, she said.

Forty-four "Friend of StepTrek" sponsorships were sold for $100 each. There were also 142 tee-shirts sold.

The net revenue was $13,114.

"It was the best year we've had in the recent past," she said.

In the Beautification Committee update, Candice Gonzalez said the universities have a policy of rather not having students participate in cleanups due to COVID.

In the Outreach Committee update, Ms. Tarkett said there has not been a recent outreach meeting. But anyone interested in a committee should "please join."

Next, Brad Palmisiano said he met with the developer about four proposed townhouses at the corner of Brosville and Pius streets.

He also reported that Veronica's Veil is seeking a URA grant to tear down the building, which is in bad shape.

A grant is also being sought to repair the 18th St. steps lights.

Mr. Palmisiano also reported he talked with City Planning about front yard parking and blocking sidewalks.

Mr. Kraus said council just passed a zoning amendment removing the requirement that an off-street parking space must accompany every new single-unit attached dwelling.

He said it is a way to encourage developers not to take sidewalks for curb cuts for driveways, which can create safety hazards.

In questions-and-answers, a participant said that Pius St. is ripe for traffic calming. He asked if the 50 percent of residents' approval requirement holds during COVID, or if less signatures are required for action to occur?

He was told to submit the signatures he has to the mayor's office.

A college student said she walks her dog on Pius St., which is littered with glass. She worries about glass becoming imbedded in his paws.

Next, Gisele Betances, the new liaison with the Mayor's Office, said to contact her for any concerns.

The meeting ended with Mr. Kraus reminding everyone to vote. Ballots may be dropped off at various city locations, such as at 4th Ave. between Grant and Ross streets. Free parking is provided.

 

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