3 Steel Valley communities eye comprehensive plan for the future
When the Steel Valley communities of Homestead, West Homestead and Munhall last developed a comprehensive plan in 2000, construction of the Waterfront shopping district was only beginning.
At the time, the three neighboring towns — which share a connecting business district along E. Eighth Avenue — had no local say on the preservation of the historic character of the communities, and the Steel Valley Bike Trail along the Monongahela River was under development.
A lot has changed since then — the Waterfront has flourished, the communities formed an historic oversight board that can make recommendations on whether construction projects will match the fabric of existing architecture, and the bike trail is a heavily used segment of the Great Allegheny Passage linking Pittsburgh and Washington — and now urban planners say it may be time to develop a new planning document for the future.
Third Sector Development LLC is reaching out to the three communities to discuss the development of a new comprehensive plan. Third Sector's Jack Nolan said such plans typically have a 10-year life span and noted many of the initiatives that were part of the 13-year-old plan have been completed.
“There have been major changes,” said Nolan, who noted at least 25 buildings along Eighth Avenue have been rebuilt since the last plan was adopted. He said a master plan incorporating business, the arts and architecture, recreation and transportation can help keep recovery on track in the three boroughs.
“You look at these three communities and you say, ‘We're in the 21st century now. Let's incorporate these things to make it better,'” he said.
Homestead and Munhall officials have indicated they'd like to meet to see if funding is available for the development of a new plan. It's expected West Homestead will sign on for the initial planning sessions, too.
The company has not yet been hired by the municipalities.
Comprehensive plans are required by state law and used by municipalities and other governmental agencies as a guide for the development of business districts, housing strategies, infrastructure and transit plans and other key aspects of development. The plan of 2000 was the first multi-municipality one in Allegheny County.
In addition to the completion of the Waterfront and bike trail, the 2000 plan called for revitalization of the existing business district along Eighth Avenue and residential, commercial and retail construction along Sixth, Seventh and Ninth avenues.
Homestead manager Ian McMeans said the plan to develop the avenues off the main drag of Eighth Avenue has been somewhat successful. Homestead relocated its administrative offices and police department to a new building along Seventh Avenue in 2010. There's a continuing effort to rebuild the Homestead Bakery along Seventh Avenue as a condominium apartment project, and a Bottom Dollar supermarket opened along the avenue at Amity Street last summer at the site once occupied by Bev-O-Matic.
McMeans said the last example suggests there is a need for a new comprehensive plan.
“Bev-O-Matic was still in business when the last plan was drawn up,” he said.
McMeans said there was development potential suggested in the 2000 plan that's only now coming to fruition, such as the proposed $13 million commercial and residential project ONE Homestead Development.
Approved for construction last month, the project will be built by developer a.m. Rodriguez Associates Inc. and includes a 6,000-square-foot commercial building along E. Eighth Avenue, rebuilding of the old post office along Amity Street at Ninth Avenue, and townhouses along Amity Street.
“There wasn't necessarily even a developer in the picture at the time (of the initial plan) who was focused on those (locations),” McMeans said.
Nolan said a new comprehensive plan likely will include continued development of the Waterfront, especially in the area of accessibility in and out of the facility, and infrastructure for storm water runoff.
West Homestead Mayor John Dindak said he'd like to see the former accomplished for safety reasons. Were a train to derail and close the Amity Street access point to the shopping center, he said, “We'd have a heck of a time getting people out of there.”
Dindak said there had been plans to build a ramp from the Homestead Grays Bridge into West Homestead near Costco, but that project was nixed due to a shortfall in county funding.
He said he wants the next plan to address the need for additional housing and how to handle vacant lots in West Homestead.
“We definitely want to get involved,” Dindak said.
McMeans said storm water improvements are a big concern. He'd like to see the green space between the Waterfront and railroad tracks developed as a storm water runoff containment area to eliminate the need for more spending by Alcosan on infrastructure serving the municipality.
According to Nolan, the next comprehensive plan could include a museum for Negro League Baseball and its Homestead Grays, creation of a business incubation center, and better accessibility to the Waterfront and Eighth Avenue for bike trail users.
“(Another) thing we'd really like to look into is a boat landing for the Waterfront area which could accommodate the Gateway Clipper Fleet,” he said.
The development of an amphitheater along the river is another idea in the mix. Nolan said the area could foster the arts by soliciting bids from artists for a major economic project and awarding the project to the artist with the best design.
The plan could include business incentives such as reestablishing tax break zones under the Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance Act, awarding tax credits for investment in the historic area, and promoting business opportunities related to the trail and tourism, Nolan said.
Munhall borough manager Harry Faulk said, based on what Third Sector presented to council at a recent meeting, “I'd like to see what they have to offer. It's always good to plan ahead for the future.”
But Munhall council president Dan Lloyd, who said he had no knowledge of the Third Sector proposal, has concerns that a study could cost money and hinder development.
“What we need is to concentrate on private investment coming to town,” Lloyd said. “We're seeing more interest in Eighth Avenue and the lower end of Munhall than we've seen in decades. We need to continue working with developers instead of standing in the way of it.”
Development of a new plan is estimated to cost about $146,000. Third Sector estimates the out-of-pocket cost to each borough will be around $5,000.
As to the remaining costs, the firm estimates $41,500 could be available through the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, with a potential $25,000 coming from a Keystone Planning grant and $16,500 from a Municipal Assistance Program grant. The firm says $65,000 could be available through the Allegheny County Municipal Assistance program and potentially $25,000 available from the Local Government Academy.
Nolan said initial meetings with borough representatives will be to discuss funding strategies.