TribLIVE

| Opinion/The Review

 
Larger text Larger text Smaller text Smaller text | Order Photo Reprints

Vanaski: Bank on land bank changing face of Pittsburgh neighborhoods

Email Newsletters

Click here to sign up for one of our email newsletters.

Daily Photo Galleries

'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

By Nafari Vanaski
Wednesday, April 23, 2014, 11:06 p.m.
 

A meeting at Central Baptist Church in the Hill District about land bank legislation attracted so many Pittsburghers last month that the church had to move the audience from a meeting room to its sanctuary.

City Council members Ricky Burgess, Darlene Harris and R. Daniel Lavelle rallied those opposed to the legislation.

Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith attended but was undecided about the idea.

“This land is your land,” Harris told the crowd. Burgess said of the land banking proponents: “I do not trust them,” adding, “This land is all we have left.”

Weeks later, the legislation passed with some changes. The only member voting “no” was Harris, whose stated objection was that the city's Real Estate Department does something similar to what a land bank would do. The land bank's board has the authority to acquire land, clear property titles of liens and other debts and sell blighted properties to developers.

I asked Burgess what changed so drastically that he ended up supporting the ordinance. He said he wanted the community and the council to have greater participation in the workings of a land bank, and that changes to the bill addressed that.

“(The bill) gives me and residents direct participation,” Burgess said, noting that residents and council members can be part of the land bank board, and affordable housing is stipulated as a priority.

The question of how a land bank might change the literal face of some city neighborhoods — and if it's worth that cost — is not one I ask lightly.

At the Hill meeting, Burgess kept saying: “We don't want them dropping the SouthSide Works in Homewood.”

My first thought when he said that was: What's wrong with that? What's wrong with something that could change the landscape of a neighborhood whose landscape could use a change? There are entire blocks in city neighborhoods, including those around Central Baptist Church, with dilapidated buildings. Would I rather see a Starbucks there? Sorry, but yeah.

Burgess concedes that land maintenance of delinquent properties is something lacking in the city, and something the legislation hopefully will help correct.

The land bank is part of a continuing conversation about how to rebuild low-income communities, he said. There's no set answer about that, however.

“But I look forward to working with new administration to make that happen,” he said.

Nafari Vanaski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach her at 412-856-7400, ext. 8669, nvanaski@tribweb.com or on Twitter @NafariTrib.

Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.

 

 


Show commenting policy

Most-Read Stories

  1. Ejections, heated moments mark Pirates’ win over Reds
  2. Zimbabwe alleges Murrysville doctor illegally killed lion
  3. New Steeler Boykin clarifies remarks about former coach
  4. Pirates notebook: Burnett says ‘surgery is not an option’
  5. After early criticism, Haley has Steelers offense poised to be even better
  6. Making environmentalism divisive
  7. County council candidates chosen for District 11 ballot
  8. Rossi: Looking at the next great Steeler
  9. Penguins not alone in top-heavy approach to salary cap
  10. Former Lincoln Park star Rowan chooses N.C. State
  11. Steelers swap draft pick for Eagles cornerback