ShareThis Page

Duquesne puts zone ordinance on hold

| Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014, 4:36 a.m.

Duquesne council will not act on a proposed neighborhood zoning ordinance until city officials learn more about revised plans to redevelop the Burns Heights housing project.

Mayor Phil Krivacek read correspondence from the city's planning commission during Wednesday's council meeting and voiced his objection to approving an ordinance that defines a “Traditional Neighborhood Overlay District” within a residentially zoned area.

The planning commission recommended the ordinance in order to prevent the city from having to grant variances, such as yard and setback requirements, for the construction of Allegheny Housing Authority-managed townhomes.

Krivacek's problem was not with yard or setback requirements, but rather the vague reference to other “minor variances” that could arise with the project.

“That line tells me that this is like writing an open check,” Krivacek said.

Officials from the housing authority and contracted landscape architect and engineering firm Fahringer, McCarty, Grey Inc. attended Wednesday's meeting to address council's concerns.

“I'm not blaming you,” Krivacek told project manager Brian Almeter. “I'm just telling you what I see in this letter.”

When city officials began discussing the redevelopment of Burns Heights, an Allegheny County Housing Authority project located behind Crawford Avenue, the plans were different, Krivacek said. Private developer Ralph A. Falbo Inc. toured the site roughly eight years ago and entered talks with the city and housing authority. The complex was demolished five years ago, and plans have undergone a series of revisions.

City officials understood from initial talks that Falbo's company would manage the property once it was developed, and today's plan has the property under housing authority management.

“The only reason we as a council approved it was because we thought we were going to get some sort of tax base,” Krivacek said. “I think someone took for granted that we don't know what we're doing here. Well, we know what we are doing here.”

Housing authority development director Jack McGraw said the plan hasn't changed since he's been involved, and he was unaware that the nature of the project was not adequately explained to city officials.

“I can't answer all of your questions here tonight, but the commitment is here,” McGraw said. “We aren't trying to change the deal. We tried to keep you aware of the plans.”

Councilman Timothy Petrisko said the city can't afford to be held financially captive by a federally subsidized development.

“At 55 percent, we have one of the highest rental property rates in Allegheny County,” Petrisko said. “One thing we don't need is more rental property and more Section 8.”

The previous plan was to be funded under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's defunct Hope VI program, which was intended to redevelop the nation's worst housing projects.

Now the plan is to be funded by tax credits through the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency.

Having another housing authority-managed project in place of Burns Heights means no financial benefit to a city fighting to free itself from Act 47 municipal bankruptcy, Krivacek said.

The city's prior administrations had agreements with the housing authority to receive 10 percent of income generated by the rental units.

“They never got a dime, and that puts doubt in my mind,” Krivacek said.

Council hopes to have its questions answered and a new plan drafted in coming months.

The revision process will begin with Duquesne's planning commission, set to meet on Feb. 24.

Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1956, or jvertullo@tribweb.com.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.