Hill District groups voice concerns over development of former arena site

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (PA), 2014-06-12


June 12 -- Hill District groups worry that many African-Americans won't be able to live in the residential development planned by the Penguins at the former Civic Arena site.

At a city zoning board of adjustment meeting today, they called on the hockey team to conduct a fair housing market study to determine the likely racial composition of the development.

"We are concerned that the Penguins' proposed housing prices will effectively exclude the vast majority of African-American households in Pittsburgh from living in the redeveloped lower Hill District ," said Carl Redwood , board chair of the Hill District Consensus Group .

The comments came as the Pittsburgh-Allegheny County Sports & Exhibition Authority appeared before the zoning board to update it on the status of the lower Hill development and the parking at the site.

The status report was required as part of variances granted for the parking two years ago.

Affordable housing has been a big stumbling block in the negotiations between Hill leaders and the Penguins on an agreement related to the development of the 28-acre arena site.

Community leaders are pushing for 30 percent of the planned 1,200 units to be available to those at 20 to 80 percent of the area median income. The hockey team wants 20 percent of the housing available to those earning 80 percent of the area median.

Mr. Redwood said a 2010 market analysis by the Penguins assumed that only people earning at least $52,000 a year would rent or purchase housing in the lower Hill. He said only 20 percent of African-Americans in Pittsburgh earn that much.

He argued that the fair housing marketing study would be the best way to determine whether the development plans "will perpetuate racial segregation or foster racial inclusion."

Barry Oursler , executive director of Pittsburgh United, added that 80 percent of the residents moved out of low-income high-rises in East Liberty as part of that neighborhood's redevelopment have not been able to return.

Marimba Milliones, executive director of the Hill Community Development Corp. , said residents also want to see the benefits of the arena redevelopment extended to other parts of the Hill. She said statistics from the broader Hill typically are cited in funding applications for the arena site but that the middle and upper Hill don't benefit from the money awarded. She would like to see that changed with part of the arena funding used to support infrastructure development on Centre Avenue beyond Crawford Street .

Some of the residents who attended the session were upset that none of it was recorded as part of official zoning board proceedings because it was an update and not a formal hearing.

"Are we just talking to the wind?" asked Rev. Maureen Cross Bolden .

They were told there would be plenty of opportunity for public comment when the Penguins submit a preliminary land development plan for the development, which also would include office and commercial components, to the city. No date for that has been set.

During the update, a representative for the SEA said the agency should be in position to start construction of the first roads at the site in spring 2015. The Penguins are required to take down the first parcels for development in October.

Mark Belko : mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262.

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