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Peduto: East Liberty growth can't be 'at expense of longtime residents'

Tom Fontaine
| Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015, 11:04 a.m.
Coalition of Organized Residents president Alethea Sims, 59, of East Liberty shows the difference between Penn Plaza (left) and newly developed East Liberty Place South (right).
Jasmine Goldband | Trib Total Media
Coalition of Organized Residents president Alethea Sims, 59, of East Liberty shows the difference between Penn Plaza (left) and newly developed East Liberty Place South (right).
Mayor Bill Peduto listens to residents of Penn Plaza during a meeting at East Liberty Lutheran Church, Saturday, July 18, 2015.
Andrew Russell | Trib Total Media
Mayor Bill Peduto listens to residents of Penn Plaza during a meeting at East Liberty Lutheran Church, Saturday, July 18, 2015.

Tax revenue generated by development of seven sites in the East End could be diverted to subsidize affordable housing construction in East Liberty and pay for other improvements under a plan approved Thursday by the city's Urban Redevelopment Authority.

URA voted Thursday afternoon to move forward with the second phase of development in the East Liberty Transit Revitalization Investment District.

“There is much to celebrate in the regrowth of East Liberty, but it cannot be at the expense of longtime residents of the neighborhood who lived through the difficult times,” said Mayor Bill Peduto.

Some longtime residents have complained they are being displaced and priced out by developments that will charge market-rate rents.

In addition to affordable housing, potential revenue could pay for projects such as building a transit stop and bridge for pedestrians and bicyclists in Larimer and making pedestrian improvements around Lincoln School. Combined, the projects are expected to cost $3.9 million to $6.6 million, URA said.

URA Chairman Kevin Acklin, Peduto's chief of staff and chief development officer, said he hopes that money will start pouring into the redevelopment fund within the next two years.

Tax revenue could be diverted for 20 years from up to seven development sites in the East End. URA said redevelopment of Shadyside's historic Hunt Armory alone could provide $500,000 to $1 million for affordable housing. The URA is evaluating 10 redevelopment proposals for the armory, said city Councilman Dan Gilman, D-Squirrel Hill.

URA board member Jim Ferlo, a former state senator from Highland Park, said he was concerned that too much attention was being paid to the East End.

“There are a lot of needs in many communities, not just East Liberty,” Ferlo said, mentioning neighborhoods in the North Side and West End.

Acklin said: “This is the first step in what we hope to be a citywide strategy to stay ahead of the affordable housing crisis.”

Pending approval from the city, Allegheny County and Pittsburgh Public Schools, 70 percent of the new taxes generated would help support future projects in the area. The three taxing bodies would split the remaining 30 percent and keep the taxes they currently receive. An authority would be formed to oversee the reinvestment fund.

Peduto said he envisions the Mellon's Orchard South site in East Liberty as a home for “mixed-use and mixed-income” development that could be a “partial solution” for residents who will be displaced from Penn Plaza Apartments, a block away.

This summer, hundreds of Penn Plaza residents — many of them poor — received word that their leases would not be renewed because the owners want to redevelop the site.

Downtown-based LG Realty Advisors Inc. agreed to delay the move and is negotiating with Peduto's administration on possible remedies. Peduto said he's working to “find ways to ensure all residents can stay in their home neighborhoods, even when they are experiencing growth and increased prices” from the area's explosive development.

Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7847 or tfontaine@tribweb.com.

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