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Plan for Hill bolsters hope for development

| Thursday, March 10, 2011, 12:00 p.m.

Lifelong Hill District resident Thaw Washington said he sees some sparks of development in the impoverished neighborhood, but a lot of work remains.

"There ain't nothing impossible, but I don't think they're making too much progress here," Washington, 87, said Wednesday, citing the new YMCA and full-service grocery store under construction.

Hill District leaders yesterday revealed a draft master plan for the Greater Hill District to guide public officials and private corporations in developing land around the Consol Energy Center. A final report is likely within the next couple months.

"It's practical. It's realistic," said City Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle, who represents the Hill District. "But now, we'll have to do the work."

Among the plan's highlights:

• Reinforce Centre Avenue as the Hill's primary retail/commercial area.

• Transform Bedford Avenue into a fully developed residential area to take advantage of city views and recreational amenities.

• Replace Addison Terrace public housing with a mixed-income neighborhood containing various housing types.

• Manage parking to "minimize the sense that the Hill is the city's parking lot."

"We hope to capture the hearts and minds of the community," said Frederick Merrill, principal of Sasaki Associates, one of two companies producing the master plan. "We hope the stakeholders gravitate toward it, pick up the individual pieces and run with it."

Success of the Hill District development plan could hinge on the Penguins' plans to redevelop the area surrounding the shuttered Civic Arena. The Penguins want to tear down the arena, but some community activists are trying to have it declared a historic structure; that process could stretch into the summer.

Lavelle said the community hasn't identified an agency that'll be in charge of implementing the master plan, and cautioned that work would take years. Other community leaders said once the plan is finished, then talks can begin on how to pay to implement the ideas.

"I think it's fully implementable over the long haul," Lavelle said.

The planning process hasn't been smooth; last year, Sasaki Associates and Stull and Lee Inc. replaced CHPlanning after it missed an October deadline to produce a master plan. CHPlanning Director Charnell Hicks said her firm "didn't seem to fit what the (city's Urban Redevelopment Authority) was going for."

In November, residents identified 13 issues they wanted the master plan to address, including helping Hill residents obtain good jobs, improve transportation, encourage residents to improve their homes, and clean up empty residences and lots.

To view the draft of the Greater Hill District Master Plan, go to www.greaterhilldistrictmasterplan.org/Documents/HDMPPresentation-March9commmtg_DRAFT.pdf .

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