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Residents ask Pittsburgh to halt demolition of vacant homes

| Wednesday, May 29, 2013, 11:47 p.m.
This house at 2722 Hazelton Street in Perry Hilltop, shown, Tuesday, is an example of the blight upsetting some residents of the neighborhood.

Shakeeta Scott walks by a vacant house on Reed Street in the Hill District each morning.

The roof sags. Windows are missing, broken or boarded. Old tires pile up in the driveway. The garage is wide open, filled with garbage and discarded furniture.

“I don't know what's in there or what's going to jump out,” said Scott, 37, who lives just up the road.

“Tear that down. Knock that down,” chanted William Johnson, 18, who also lives nearby.

The city has marked 2351 Reed St. for demolition, one of hundreds of buildings it expects to tear down this year. But residents on Wednesday urged city council members to temporarily halt demolitions, especially in less affluent East End neighborhoods, where 329 buildings are on a condemnation list.

Council responded on Wednesday by requiring the Bureau of Building Inspection to consider a neighborhood's plan for the building or its historic context before applying to the city planning department for a demolition permit. The city, community organizations and community development corporations may petition the department for a hearing to halt any demolition.

“We're not saying, ‘Don't tear down houses that need to be torn down,'” said Tim Stevens, chairman of the Black Political Empowerment Project. “We think there should be some kind of balance between demolition and rehabbing.”

Stevens said the city could use the money it spends to tear down houses to pay for workers to rebuild them. He and others asked council to consider a plan championed by Councilman Bill Peduto during his mayoral campaign to use abandoned buildings as on-job training centers, where city residents could find work, learn building trades and rehabilitate older buildings.

The city spent more than $3.3 million last year tearing down homes and plans to spend $3 million this year.

“To keep things from being demolished, someone has to take responsibility for it,” said Paul Loy, the city's demolition manager. “Unfortunately, that rarely happens.”

Councilman Daniel Lavelle said it does happen. He can point to rehabbed and reinhabited houses in his district to prove it. Lavelle's district, which includes the Hill District and several North Side neighborhoods, pursues an “anti-demolition” policy, asking the city to spare houses neighborhoods think they can rehabilitate.

Demolishing homes can divide a neighborhood, pitting those who live near the dilapidated buildings against community organizations that want to save them, said Councilman Ricky Burgess, whose district includes Homewood and thousands of vacant properties.

“I think the community groups and the citizens need to be on the same page,” Burgess said.

Council intends to conduct a public hearing later on the issue.

Staff writer Bob Bauder contributed to this story. Aaron Aupperlee is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7986 or aaupperlee@tribweb.com.

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