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Neighbors divided over new grocery in Garfield, Friendship

| Saturday, July 6, 2013, 12:02 a.m.
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
This former Foodland on Penn Avenue in Garfield/Friendship is shown on Friday July 5, 2013. Bottom Dollar supermarket has approval to renovate this site for one of their stores.

Neighbors in Garfield and Friendship are split over the idea of a new supermarket coming to Penn Avenue, with one group welcoming the first new grocery in 26 years and the other worried about its sights, sounds and smells.

Commercial Properties Inc. of Raleigh is set to start construction in August on the $10 million Bottom Dollar, a discount grocer, at the site of a former Giant Eagle at 5200 Penn Ave. It plans to open the store early next year.

“I think it's awesome,” said Ralonda Grant, 25, of Garfield who lives on Penn directly across from where the store will sit. “I think it's a great idea for the people who don't have a car, who don't drive, to have one right there.”

But neighbors across the street in Friendship are concerned they'll have delivery trucks in their streets, air conditioning units running all night and the odor of garbage in the air.

About 20 residents appealed to Allegheny County Common Pleas Court last year after the Pittsburgh Zoning Board of Adjustment approved the store. The group dropped its appeal last week after Commercial Properties agreed to screen the neighborhood with masonry walls along South Pacific and Coral Street. Company owner C. Brantley Tillman did not return a call.

“We're really happy to be able to have a grocery store in the neighborhood,” said Jennifer Haven, 40, who lives on South Pacific and was among those appealing the zoning decision. “I am unhappy that it took so much time, energy and money on both sides to come to an agreement.”

Friendship attorney Ken Stiles, who represented some neighbors in the case, said Commercial Properties also agreed to plant trees along the walls to prevent graffiti. It also agreed, among other things, to forgo putting a lighted sign on Coral Street, he said.

“We came up with a modification of the plan, and everything is going forward very nicely now,” Stiles said.

Commercial Properties, which announced two years ago that it was considering an expansion into the Pittsburgh market, is building the store without public subsidy. Less than 4 miles away, taxpayers are heavily invested in an $11.5 million Shop ‘n Save under construction on Centre Avenue in the Hill District.

“It's on their own dime,” Rick Swartz, executive director of the civic group Bloomfield-Garfield Corp., said of Bottom Dollar.

He said the store would not only provide affordable, fresh food for neighborhoods that haven't had a supermarket since the Giant Eagle closed in 1987 but also bring more people to that section of Penn.

“If you come down Penn Avenue on a typical Saturday or a typical Sunday, right now, it's largely deserted,” Swartz said.

He said the store would complement a planned reconstruction of Penn Avenue in Garfield this summer. The $5 million project includes new pavement, sidewalks and amenities such as new light poles along the street.

“I'm sure there are some people in Friendship who are not jumping up and down, but I think once the plan is finished, people will be relatively happy,” Swartz said.

Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-765-2312 or bbauder@tribweb.com.

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