South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Margaret L. Smykla
Contributing Writer 

Ideas, wish list for Berg Place told to elected officials

 

The April 22 public meeting of the Carrick Community Council (CCC) featured discussion with City Councilman Anthony Coghill and State Rep. Jessica Benham on what the community would like for development at the Berg Place site.

The Zoom meeting concluded with a "Meet the Candidates" for District 7 school board representative: Khamil Scantling and Jamie Piotrowski.

The three-building, vacant Berg Place apartment site is located at 2531-2539 Brownsville Rd. in Carrick. 

The unsecured site is in a decade-long disrepair, with shattered windows, broken doors, strewn garbage, overgrown brush, and squatter-like individuals coming and going, often setting fires indoors.

Ms. Benham began by calling Berg Place "beyond an eyesore," and a hazard.

What is our vision – retail? housing? greenspace?

"This is a great opportunity for us to think about what we want for Carrick," she said. 

Mr. Coghill said he and Ms. Benham walked around the property, and saw the potential which is "off the charts." Being a contractor, the building structure looks sound to him, he said, and feels it is "salvageable."

The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) and the city legal department are working to acquire the property. Back taxes are owed to the county, city, and school district.

While the city and county are agreeable to a tax agreement, the school board has yet to get on board.

An attendee said a private contractor could buy it and that no public money is needed.

"It's all the unknowns that make it scary for a developer," he said.

Mr. Coghill said the only public money he envisions is the tax erasure. Otherwise, he sees it as a "gold mine for some lucky developer," although it is currently caught up in litigation.

The goal at this time is to put it in the hands of the URA, he said.

When attendees were asked of their vision for the site, a woman said she would like to see a "Downtown Carrick," kind of place, with a farmer's market, small shops, gathering spots, and a town square, the latter consisting of trees, benches, and water fountain.

Another attendee said she would like to see a market, coffee shop, barber shop/beauty salon on the site. 

An attendee said, long-term, he would like to see retail and new, modern apartments. Mid-term, to level the entire site.

Short-term, he would like to see enforcement, as there are unauthorized people coming and going at all hours, often with the smell of fire from indoors.

He called 911 on a car parked at the site for four days, four-feet from the curb, and with no plates.

"It is clearly not secured," said Ms. Benham.

"The URA is aggressively pursuing it to be in our hands," Mr. Coghill said.

If the community thinks it can be rehabilitated, and the right developer can be secured, the structures can be kept, he said.

For now, it needs boarded up, he said.

Ms. Benham said she likes the idea of retail there, and Carrick does not have a coffee shop.

Donna McManus, CCC president and meeting host, said if anyone comes up with an idea after the meeting, to email Ms. Benham at: RepBenham@pahouse.net .

Mr. Coghill said he likes the idea of retail and a coffee shop, but will follow the community's wishes.

An attendee said there are so many empty storefronts on Brownsville Rd. he is not sure of the wisdom of more stores.

In response, an attendee said "nothing draws a crowd like a crowd," and if people go to the Berg Place site they might hang around to do more shopping on Brownsville Rd.

To a question about the URA timeline, Ms. Benham said they are awaiting the response from the school district on the back taxes. Mr. Coghill said he hopes that occurs in a few months.

To wait a year is "unacceptable" he said.

Under a conservatorship, an organization takes over a property that is defunct on taxes, and maintains the property.

For now, Mr. Coghill said "I will make sure the buildings are boarded up." He added his focus is on all of Brownsville Rd. and not just Berg Place.

Ms. Benham said she is interested in state grants that can be applied for in relation to the site.

Next, school board candidates Khamil Scantling and Jamie Piotrowski answered questions from attendees, such as from a teacher at Concord Elementary School on how they plan to highlight its students' many accomplishments.

Both agreed the school/district websites are vital in that regard.

Ms. Scantling said a live chat to discuss the school will be held on May 11.

The final speaker was Gisele Betances, from the Mayor's Office, who said a survey was available on what changes one would like to see in the city's Residential Permit Parking Program. Visit: htttps://engage.pittsburghpa.gov/rpp-program-updates . The deadline was April 25.

To learn about various projects, such as Neighborhood Health and Safety, and to provide input in surveys, visit: https://engage.pittsburghpa.gov . 

To contact Ms. Betances, email: gisele.betances@pittsburghpa.gov .

 

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