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Judge tosses Strip District water runoff dispute back to litigants

| Friday, Dec. 27, 2013, 10:12 a.m.
Justin Merriman | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
The landmark Produce Terminal in the Strip District on Tuesday, June 10, 2012.

Neither side in a dispute over a proposed $400 million Strip District development has shown whether the project must meet the requirements of a 2010 city ordinance, a federal judge ruled on Friday.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Mitchell temporarily denied a request by the city and the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority for summary judgment against environmental group PennFuture. Representatives of PennFuture and the city couldn't be reached for comment.

James Good, interim executive director of the authority, said the judge's ruling requires the city and authority to make more arguments by the end of January. PennFuture will then submit its arguments by the end of February, and the judge likely will rule by spring, he said.

“He's basically asking for more information,” Good said.

If the judge again rejects the request for summary judgment, the lawsuit will move ahead, he said.

PennFuture sued the city and authority in July, claiming they violated the ordinance when the city told Buncher Co. that its plan for handling storm runoff from a road construction site complied with city requirements.

The city and authority contend the 2010 ordinance isn't part of a 2004 pollution discharge permit the Department of Environmental Protection issued. The permit allows them to discharge storm runoff into the Monongahela, Allegheny and Ohio rivers but requires them to regulate runoff from development sites by ordinance.

Both sides simply asserted that the city ordinance applies or doesn't apply to the project, without citing case law or other authority to back up the assertions, Mitchell said.

The judge granted the authority's request to drop part of the project from the lawsuit.

Mitchell said that although PennFuture provided enough evidence to proceed with its challenge of the road construction between 11th and 14th streets, near the Veterans Bridge, it did not provide evidence of violations for the road being built between 14th and 21st streets.

The road, which bisects 55 acres that Buncher owns between 11th and 21st streets, is key to the company's plan to build housing, offices and retail space on the site.

A Buncher representative couldn't be reached on Friday.

Buncher's proposed Riverfront Landing development has met with other resistance.

Company President and CEO Thomas J. Balestrieri told City Council on Monday that Buncher intends to push ahead with the project, with or without the landmark Produce Terminal.

Preservationists balked at Buncher's proposal to demolish about one-third of the terminal and renovate what remains at a cost of about $25 million. Council has delayed a vote on whether to grant historic status to the building until Mayor-elect Bill Peduto takes office on Jan. 6.

Buncher has had a $1.8 million option on the Urban Redevelopment Authority-owned building since December 2010. The company proposed a retail, office and residential development adjacent to the terminal and would tear down several blocks of the 1,500-foot-long structure to extend 17th Street to the Allegheny River. Its plan includes building a public plaza on 55 acres of vacant land along the river.

The nonprofit group Preservation Pittsburgh and Lawrenceville architect Sarah Kroloff have said they nominated the Produce Terminal for historic status as a last resort when Buncher applied for a demolition permit. The building once was the hub of the city's food distribution industry.

Brian Bowling is a staff writer for Total Trib Media. He can be reached at 412-325-4301 at bbowling@tribweb.com.

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