By Margaret L. Smykla
Contributing Writer 

Carson Safety Plan making progress

Former South Side Hospital buildings to be sold

 

Last updated 8/16/2022 at 10:27am



Public safety on East Carson St., the future of the former South Side Hospital building, and rebranding of the neighborhood were among the topics discussed at the August 9 meeting of the South Side Planning Forum.

In her “Public Safety on Carson St.” presentation, neighborhood services manager Rebekkah Ranallo said the mayor’s plan for peace is a three-pronged approach of law enforcement, building code enforcement, and fire code enforcement.

The ongoing concerns, especially on weekends in the 12th to 18th streets corridor, include violence, unruly crowds in streets, fights, loitering, disruptive behavior, public intoxication, underage teens, excessive littering, and more.

Mayor Gainey’s chief of staff, Jake Wheatley, said he wanted “to reiterate the commitment the mayor has made to the South Side” in charging his team to come up with a plan.


In an update of the weekend law enforcement approach, Ms. Ranallo said there are 15 officers, with one supervisor per shift. All officers are on foot starting at 1:30 a.m.

The saturation patrol extends beyond the 12th to 18th streets’ corridor to include 10th St. as well as side streets and alleys and parking lots. Detectives focus on side streets and parking lots.

The Public Safety Dept. is coordinating “No loitering” signage on poles with the Dept. of Mobility and Infrastructure (DOMI).

She also reported there has been a reduction in disruptive behavior since the temporary closing of the nightclub Foxtail and its Skybar. The Embr bar has modified hours and a police presence at closing.

In building and fire code enforcement updates, Sarah Kinter, director of Permits, Licenses, and Inspections (PLI), ordered a fire and life safety code sweep in June and July for all commercial businesses in the 1500 to 1900 blocks of East Carson St.


Sixty-five inspections were performed. Forty-six cases files were opened for about 84 violators. Thirty require additional inspections.

In nighttime economy updates, the city’s nighttime economy manager, Allison Harnden, is working on funding and training and providing education on network ID scanners; de-escalation training; active shooter training; stop the bleed training; and code compliance education for outdoor food vendors.


In questions-and-answers, it was asked if food trucks are allowed on Carson St., to which Ms. Ranallo said she would look into the code.

To a query about the plan when Foxtail/Skybar reopens, Mr. Wheatley said the city will work with the owners and, if it reopens, that it will be conducive to the neighborhood.

To a question about the homeless, Ms. Ranallo said the Roots organization is doing outreach for zones 1, 2, and 5. According to Roots, the homeless community is tight and transient and moves around the zones.

There is currently a shortage of beds in the city for the homeless, with an additional 150 beds coming this fall.

To a concern that the mayor is not concerned enough to have staff attend all Planning Forum monthly meetings, Mr. Wheatley said while staff cannot make every meeting, the team’s commitment has not changed.

But other neighborhoods also demand their time, he said.

Next, Gwendolyn Bolden, of the Pittsburgh Parking Authority (PPA), reported there were 203 citations in June and 255 in July in the South Side. On-street readers totaled 303 in June and 173 in July.


“No parking” violations totaled 56 in June and 33 in July.

To a question if streets with “no parking” signs are being ticketed, she said yes.

Ms. Bolden also reported the goal for public parking lots is to maintain safety and work with the police and DOMI on correct lighting. For disturbances in parking lots, call 911 as PAA does not have authority to arrest.

She also reported there is not enforcement after 6 p.m. in the neighborhood as police officers are needed to accompany PPA enforcement officers for safety.

There are staffing problems with the PPA and police, she said, and she won’t put her officers out there “without protection.”

Next, Julie Hecker, vice-president of operations at UPMC Mercy, addressed concerns raised at prior meetings.

Trees were planted along the Mary St. parking lot. Lighting at Josephine St. was lessened per residents’ request. Larger signage was installed for the UPMC Outpatient Center, 2310 Jane St.

An attendee commented that no work appears to have been done around the former hospital parking lots – no trees planted; two trees removed; no landscaping, and no lots cleaned.

She said the lots are used as a safe haven for drinking and doing drugs.

Ms. Hecker said cleanup was done last fall, but has not been updated. She said she will talk to the grounds crew.

She will also look into the unsecured parking lots as some groups asked to use them for parking.

Ms. Hecker said current services at the outpatient center include a primary care office, orthopaedic services, outpatient physical therapy, specialty health care services, and minor treatments.

She said while residents wanted urgent care and more hours, a higher level of service would require equipment not available at the site.

There is a lack of volume at the site, for which flyers promoting services is an option. Officials are also considering holding open houses at the practices, or conducting informational sessions on diabetes, high blood pressure, and more.

On the topic of the old hospital building and parking lots and Roesch-Taylor medical building, Ms. Hecker said the pre-COVID plan was to move hundreds of information technology (IT) personnel into the hospital building.

But during COVID the IT employees worked from home, and are still there, so there is no need to move them, she said.

The update is that the buildings are undergoing appraisal with intent to sell.

An attendee said her concern is that zoning changed years ago on the building to urban-industrial, which makes it open to anything, such as a concrete factory or strip club.

Margaret Bell, of UPMC’s corporate real estate, said the consensus is that the best use is residential, such as an apartment building, with beautiful views on the higher floors.

To a question if UPMC thought of turning it into assisted-living, like Canterbury Place, Ms. Bell said she is not sure there is a need for that there.

Ms. Hecker said she has heard nothing about that. But there is a lot of work that needs done on the buildings.

UPMC’s Sean Logan said he met 10 days ago with local officials, including Mr. Wheatley, Councilman Bruce Kraus and state Rep. Jessica Benham, about future plans.

“We heard their concerns loud and clear,” he said of no factories or strip clubs at the site.

Next, in the agenda items, Bob Charland, of Councilman Kraus’ office, said paving is finishing up on PennDOT’s $17.54 million ongoing East Carson St. safety improvement project.

It includes milling and resurfacing, signal and signal upgrades, ADA ramps, pedestrian enhancement accommodations, and more along the 2.5-mile stretch of East Carson St. between the Smithfield St. Bridge and 33rd St.

The hope is for fall completion.

Also occurring at this time is the $4-6 million 18th St. signals upgrade project for pedestrian safety, with work planned into 2023.

To a comment about the need for planters at median strips at 22nd and 23 streets, Rep. Benham said PennDOT will put in if there is an agreement with the city for upkeep.

Mr. Charland said there is a concern that medians exist to increase visibility and planter boxes decrease that visibility.

Next, Ms. Harnden delivered the July report of the Parking Enhancement District (PED), or the enforcement of South Side Flats parking meters from 6 p.m. to midnight on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.


PED funds must be invested back in the neighborhood for public safety, cleanliness, and infrastructure improvements.

July PED revenue totaled $20,515.94. The 2022 revenue to date is $117,546.91.

The total revenue since the PED began in April, 2017, is $950,167.76. The trust fund balance is $172,503.89.

The two-person Clean Team, or Block by Block, which is funded by PED funds, maintains the E. Carson St. corridor. A third person was added for the summer. The Clean Team removes trash and graffiti/stickers, lends hospitality assistance, and more.


Clean Team trash removal for July totaled 6,750 pounds. The Clean Team also collected 300 alcohol containers.

In old business, the South Side Community Council (SSCC) hosted a Development Activities Meeting (DAM) on July 21.

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.

The July 21 DAM featured the second presentation for a request for two new duplexes to replace two demolished structures at 1403-1405 Sarah St. It was scheduled to go before the Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) in a few days.

Another presentation was for an office building at 24 S. 18th St. to change use with the first and second floors becoming apartments. The third floor will remain office space.

The proposal may need to return to a future DAM.

The August 18 DAM will be about proposed façade changes to 1506 and 1411 East Carson St. Both presentations are scheduled before the Historic Review Commission (HRC).

In organization reports, Candice Gonzalez, of the South Side Chamber of Commerce, reported the annual South Side Summer Golf Classic held on Aug. 1 at South Hills Country Club in Whitehall drew 77 golfers.

The next South Side Summer Golf Classic is scheduled for July 31, 2023.

In SSCC news, Jacky Kaiser reported that the South Side has lost some of its recognition over the years, such as with the Historic District, and that rebranding is being eyed.

A request for proposal (RFP) was sent to marketing /branding firms in South Side, and three proposals were received.

The rebranding would be for all of the South Side, such as a new logo, banners, benches, and more – all of which are old and outdated, she said.

Ms. Rudiak said the billboards one sees in the South Side are, for example, for DUI lawyers and hepatitis, and does not present a positive image.

She also said the rebranding effort will jumpstart the South Side Neighborhood Plan process which brings stakeholders together on where they want to be in 5 to 10 years.

“This is part of the idea of moving forward,” she said.

In other SSCC news, the next general meeting will be on Sept. 27.

In South Side events, a neighborhood party will be held from 2 to 7 p.m. on Sept. 10.

The Mayor’s Office will hold a South Side cookout from noon to 3 p.m. on Aug. 28 at Armstrong Field.

The final speaker was state Rep. Benham, who said there would be a hearing in Erie on liquor licenses and youth, and that she would report back on it.

There will also be a health fair in Mt. Oliver in September on a date to be determined.

The next Planning Forum Zoom meeting will be on Sept. 13.

 

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