Aspinwall Council moves to shift money toward Riverfront 47
Opponents of a plan to turn Eastern Avenue into an access road linking Aspinwall Riverfront Park to a proposed commercial development vowed to continue their fight after suffering a setback last week when the borough council took a step toward funneling grant money to the project.
Borough council voted 4-3 to make it possible to seek permission from PennDOT to shift a $920,000 state grant to the Eastern Avenue project. The grant originally was to upgrade the Brilliant Avenue entrance to Riverfront Park. The vote came at a meeting held at St. Scholastica Pastoral Center to accommodate the large crowd of those for and against the controversial road access project.
“While we are deeply disappointed that council would take such divisive action in the face of major community opposition, we remain undeterred from our mission to stand up to fight for our families, neighbors and homes,” said Jan Beumer of the opposition group, Priority Aspinwall.
Council members Tim McLaughlin, Jen Evashavik, Mark Ellermeyer and Trip Oliver supported reallocation of the money to create the shared access route to the park and the development called Riverfront 47. Ellermeyer was the only council person to comment on what he believes would be the benefits of the road.
“I believe it will lead to increased tax revenue and new neighbors,” he said. “Without Eastern Avenue, there will not be a residential component to the development.”
Council members Ann Pawlikowski, Joe Noro and Ann Marsico voted against the grant shift.
If given permission to use the grant on the access road work, council still has to formally approve the project — a direction Oliver said council is leaning. He also said by showing its intent to support the road, the developers will open discussions about its benefits.
Resident David Brown said he wasn't buying Oliver's viewpoint.
“Is it not possible for council to ask the questions without making a resolution?” Brown said at the meeting.
He and others said the resolution was drafted to advance the interests of the developer — which has pushed for the access road — rather than the residents.
“The financial interests of developers seeking the marketing benefits of an Aspinwall address should never be allowed to take precedence over the safety and quality of life of our community's taxpaying citizens,” Beumer said.
Riverfront 47 is a partnership of the Mosites Company in Pittsburgh and Fox Chapel residents Susan and Currie Crookston. The development is proposed on 1.5 miles of property runing through Aspinwall, O'Hara and Sharpsburg. Developers plan on bringing housing, light industry and shopping to the 47-acre site along the Allegheny River.
Oliver said the developers would have to meet a list of conditions before council would vote to seek reallocation of the grant. Among them is keeping construction vehicles off borough-owned roads during construction and paying for traffic studies.
Mark Minnerly of Mosites told the audience he recognized its concern over additional traffic, adding his company hopes to be good partners with the community.
“Traffic conditions along Freeport Road are a problem and we hope you'll allow us to explore ways to make it better,” he said.
Resident Lara Voytko was one of more than 150 people who attended the meeting in fluorescent yellow T-shirts and held handmade signs that read “Aspinwall Strong” to rally against the grant shift.
“Tonight is one of those moments that can dramatically shape our future,” Voytko said. “We believe it is a milestone development, but the road is unnecessary.”
Others in the crowd of about 200 that supported the resolution passed by council. They believe the road will offer a safer access to the park and are excited at the prospect of 1.5 acres of additional parkland to be donated by the developer if the access is built.
Ellermeyer said council could leverage the Eastern Avenue project to get grants for improvements to Freeport Road. He also said the extra parkland donated by developers will complete the walking trail from Sharpsburg to Blawnox.
Still, most at the meeting spoke against it.
Resident Ted Sheerer said if council had no intention of approving the Eastern Avenue redesign, they wouldn't be considering the controversial resolution.
“There is no amount of tax dollars worth turning Freeport Road into something akin to McKnight Road,” he said.
Tawnya Panizzi is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-782-2121, option 2 or email@example.com.