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Historic district expansion divides North Side residents

| Monday, June 17, 2013, 10:59 p.m.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Longtime Mexican War Streets resident Michele Johnson heads to a community meeting Monday, June 17, 2013 on the North Side. More than 30 residents attended a cookout in opposition to expanding the Historic District boundries and then marched to the meeting.

A proposal to expand the historic district of the Mexican War Streets to include more of the North Side neighborhood has divided the community and led to a heated packed public hearing on Monday.

Pittsburgh City Council must approve the plan, and more than 200 people filled the Northside Institutional Church of God in Christ along North Avenue to let council members know their views.

Proponents said expanding the historic district would raise property values and prevent developers from destroying historic homes. Detractors said it would force out low-income residents who can't afford home improvements to meet the historic district code.

“I think they should expand it. Owners should take care of their properties,” said Eliza Carey, 77, who has lived in the neighborhood for 57 years. Her home on Jacksonia Street is in the proposed expanded zone.

“It will keep the property values up. I'm having problems with a Section 8 mess around me,” she said.

Under a historic district designation, the Pittsburgh Historic Review Commission would have to approve any changes to building exteriors.

Dr. Alton Powe, who lives in the proposed zone, said that's un-American.

“I'm opposed to it. If you own your home, I don't think anyone ought to be able to dictate about it, inside or outside,” Powe, 63, said.

“I believe that, indirectly, low-income people will be moved out. They won't be able to abide by the rules and regulations.”

The city in 1972 designated part of Mexican War Streets — Sampsonia Street to North Avenue and Sherman Avenue to Drover's Way — a city historic district. Supporters want to push the district's boundaries to Reddour Street, Charlick Way, Carrington Street, Armandale Street, Redknap Street and Cameo Way.

Proponents say the expansion would not require any property owner to change anything in place, meaning current homes and conditions are grandfathered in. Opponents say the area surrounding the historic district is different architecturally and not suited for such a designation.

Council could vote on the plan later this month.

Harry and Kathryn Gardner live in the proposed expansion zone and support it.

“These are wonderful buildings and a great neighborhood,” said Harry Gardner, 40. “If homes are going up in value, it's a good thing. How can it not be?”

But Renee Sjoen, 50, said higher property values mean higher property taxes.

“I think it will push out the middle-income and lower-income people,” Sjoen said. “They should force the city building inspectors (to make owners) maintain ones that are problems rather than force this on all of us.”

Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7886 or bkerlik@tribweb.com.

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