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Community groups make efforts to improve New Kensington

| Saturday, June 16, 2012, 7:48 p.m.

Community groups are taking the lead in improving their neighborhoods.

The New Kensington Hill Neighborhood Watch is trying to crack down on drug-related crimes and code violations in several blocks of Kenneth, Leishman and Victoria avenues.

The Parnassus Civic League is attempting to form a neighborhood watch, beautify the landscape, develop a new park and recognize historic assets.

Council praised both groups on Monday and pledged to support them through the police, code enforcement and street departments, as well as through community cleanup efforts.

Angelo Enciso of Victoria Avenue said the Hill Neighborhood Watch started in 2005 and has made some progress in clearing out undesirable elements in the 1100 through 1300 blocks.

However, he indicated the group relaxed during the quiet summer last year and now has more problems with drug dealing, poorly kept rental properties, litter and code violations.

"We have drug dealing in three houses and one apartment on my block alone," Enciso said. "There's things happening that really need looked into."

Enciso and other residents said there have been several instances of guns being fired in the neighborhood this year.

He asked council to attend the watch's monthly meeting in city hall at 7 p.m. May 1 to address their concerns and tour the neighborhood. Several council members indicated they would attend.

Enciso said he's not dissatisfied with either the police or code enforcement efforts.

"The police have done more than we can possibly ask," he said. "And I'm not putting down the ordinance people -- they're doing a great job."

Enciso and Mayor Frank Link said it will take a combined effort of residents, community groups and all city departments to combat the problem.

"We know we have work to do," Link said.

Councilman John Regoli said Police Chief Chuck Korman has been working for several months to apply for a grant to establish a police substation in the neighborhood to boost police presence. Eventually, Regoli said the city would like to add several officers to the force.

"The chief has been very proactive to get a substation," Regoli said.

Several people noted that inattentive landlords are a big part of the problem.

Enciso urged council to increase the penalties for violations: "Something that's going to hurt their pocketbooks."

Regoli assured Enciso and the residents who attended Monday's council meeting that the code enforcement office had the full support of city officials to go after code violators.

"They have carte blanche to do whatever they need to do," he said.

Meanwhile, in the calmer streets of Parnassus, Jonathan Woytek said the Parnassus Civic League has managed to rout some of the crime and has turned its focus to beautification and recreation.

Woytek on Monday asked council for permission to proceed with landscaping projects along the railroad corridor between Constitution Boulevard and Sixth Avenue and in the Parnassus Town Square at Fourth and Main streets.

Link said he would work with the league to prepare a policy for landscaping so the group doesn't have to get council permission every time it wants to maintain city property. Link added there may be restrictions near the tracks because some of the property is owned by the railroad.

Woytek said the league has existed since the 1950s, but reorganized last summer when the city began the application process for the state's Elm Street Program.

Other goals include applying for a grant with the intention of buying a city-owned property to develop a community park, refurbishing an existing but unused park along Linden Avenue and installing welcome signs around the neighborhood.

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