Lower Hill redevelopment Churns Forward

On Wednesday, the SPC hosted a public meeting to gather input on amending its transportation plans to reflect the Penguins’ proposals in the Lower Hill, such that the SEA may qualify for a $21 million federal TIGER transportation grant.

In answer to our own question, an SEA representative said the function of Street 4 is to provide additional “frontage” for the development parcel. That cul-de-sac will increase the desirability and profitability of nearby development, but provide little transportation benefit.

Members of the Hill District Consensus Group and allies arrived to oppose the application for further “public subsidy for the Pittsburgh Penguins” above the $750 million previously awarded, without the following:

  • Adherence to the Greater Hill District Master Plan, particularly with respect to minimizing parking impacts and providing community transit options
  • Funding for the Curtain Call public art project
  • Community control of street and place naming
  • 30% of housing on site to be “affordable” for low-income residents
  • 20% of commercial space on site to be available for ownership by Hill District businesses
  • Community Improvement Fund funded by Dollar A Car

Separately, Marimba Milliones representing the Hill CDC asked the panel to condition its approval upon the Penguins’ signing an enforceable “community collaboration and implementation plan” — although the TIGER grant application itself includes a letter from the Hill CDC in unqualified support.

According to Milliones, such a community collaboration and implementation plan is still being negotiated between the Penguins and City Councilman Daniel Lavelle, the Hill CDC and the “Lower Hill District Working Group”. Drafts or previews of what is being sought after in this accord are not available.

Carl Redwood of the Hill District Consensus Group characterizes that negotiating team as Milliones, Lavelle, and former councilman Sala Udin alone. He says representation of his own group was invited to participate in that process, but would have been made to sign a confidentiality agreement and so declined. However he emphasized that his group’s efforts support what the other is trying to do and vice-versa.

Randy Bish, Trib

Milliones’ public commentary also recalled the “no bid” award to the Penguins of development rights all around the Civic Arena footprint, conjuring old questions about how do these deals “saving” sports franchises get exempted from so much that is fair, routine and ordinarily required in public business.

Although the team’s Preliminary Land Development Plan and its Special Zoning proposal have yet to make it through the City Planning Commission and City Council — meaning technically, nobody yet knows what will become of the land we are servicing with these new roads — representatives of the SEA said that they cannot wait in applying for a TIGER transportation grant, as it only comes once a year and the Penguins are on the clock to begin developing parcels.

If the grant gets awarded, the consequences of “losing” that $21 million will probably weigh heavily on remaining City Planning decisions, and therefore the community will again lose its leverage with the Penguins in seeking its objectives.

Not one of the approximately twenty speakers at the meeting expressed straightforward support. Written comments are still being accepted until Sept. 11.

32 thoughts on “Lower Hill redevelopment Churns Forward

  1. BrianTH

    So in the TIGER application materials, specifically Sections 2.4 and 3.11 of the Lower Hill Preliminary Land Development Plan (Attachment 5), available at http://www.lowerhilltiger.com/, they discuss a “private alleys” plan that would be pretty cool in their own right, and could make Streets 3 and 4 far more useful and interesting, particularly for pedestrians. Because those would not be public streets the SPC doesn't really have a formal role in funding them, but they should definitely be part of the discussion since I think the street grid really needs them to be a success.

    Speaking of the SPC, it is too bad they have such a limited mandate (for contrast, check out what Portland Metro, the regional planning body for the Portland, Oregon area, is authorized to do). A lot of what various stakeholders are reported as asking for really isn't something the SPC is supposed to do.

  2. Bram Reichbaum

    My impression is those sorts of things fall outside everyone's mandate – that's why they never happen. Hypothetically most are things that should be included as terms prior to being given 3/4 billion $ but such is the price of keeping the Penguins out of Kansas City or the Emerald City of Oz.

  3. Anonymous

    The requests from the Hill groups are a joke. Not workable and unenforceable. My guess is that they are really saying “give us some money so we shut up.” They aren't real groups representing actual people. They are small collections of people that control specific institutions looking for a few dollars and using the “community” as leverage to get it.

    on another note, Peduto refused to travel to Washington to help lobby for the funding because he objects to the project. Can't wait for the next four years.

  4. Bram Reichbaum

    Can you give us some examples of real groups representing actual people?

    I don't see what is not “workable” about those bullet items… and as to “enforceable”, that's up to the developer's own choices, and to an extent the leverage that public, private and nonprofit bodies are willing to exert on it. Can you illustrate for us how just one of those requests is N/A?

  5. BrianTH

    I believe they are going for zoning as a Specially Planned District. That means the City Planning Commission and City Council have jurisdiction to review and seek modifications of the PLDP, and then when they submit FLDPs for specific building developments, they will again need approval from the Planning Commission.

  6. Anonymous

    examples would be any community group that has a large membership base and engages in projects that help grow and develop the community. It does not mean professional (read paid) executive directors that just do things to keep a salary going and don't have deep rooted support. This is not an easy question to answer, but you can start by attending meetings. Do they even have meetings? How many people show up? Is it a room of 3 people or 50? The other way to know is by looking at who funds the groups. Is it funded by donations and volunteer hours or some other group with another objective? Where does the money go? Does it go into the community or to pay salaries of staff? That doesn't mean a group can never have paid staff, but it should get a little extra scrutiny. What is their track record? What have they accomplished that has been positive for the community? If they say they build things, then what things have they built? If they say they are for jobs, then how many jobs have they created? It just takes some time and scrutiny to see if the people complaining and demanding have earned the right to make those demands.

  7. Bram Reichbaum

    I didn't realize the bar for engaging with your City was so high. Which community groups have 50 people attending meetings, are funded by donations, and have built things and created jobs? I have attended various community group meetings across the City, and typically those are attended by about a dozen die hards on a good day (unless there's something like a candidate forum at one), there is no funding at all, and they accomplish little on their own aside from neighborhood cleanups, flower or tree plantings, and the occasional picnic. I don't see how the HDCG doesn't fit that profile of every community group in the City. As to the Hill House / Hill CDC, I'm no expert on them but they were selected by the Downtown politicians themselves (reacting to deservedly awful press) as their preferred partners, to execute things such as developing that Master Plan.

    Much much much more importantly, I can't fathom what is in those demands that is not advantageous to the region or unrepresentative of community sentiment. These are things that would rebuild the Lower Hill as a viable, authentic and sustainable residential and commercial community in symbiosis with Downtown, helping to heal the arrogant, centralized redevelopment legacy of the past, which is what the whole City needs. “Their” demands are my demands too.

  8. Helen Gerhardt

    The Hill District Consensus Group meets the second Friday of each month in the Elsie H. Hillman Auditorium at 10am. I attend fairly regularly to represent Pittsburghers for Public Transit, and the sixty seats are usually full of Hill District residents, sometimes with overflow all along the walls (especially when buses or the grocery store are on the agenda), and with a wide range of organizational and business members also represented.

    The participation by the crowd is always lively and informed, with many crucial debates on the most practical matters of the Hill often facilitated by Carl Redwood and/or Bonnie Young-Laing, Co-Directors of the HDCG, who are careful to make sure that a range of voices and positions are represented.

    For anyone interested enough to hear directly from Hill District residents themselves – I'd invite you to attend those meetings. Or, perhaps less biased of an audience, I suggest you might go to any bus stop in the Hill district (81, 82, 83 routes) and ask which of their neighborhood organizations has best represented their practical interests. Of course the answers could be very different in a range of contrasting venues, but among the working people who PPT connects with daily, the positive view of HDCG is widespread.

  9. Helen Gerhardt

    Full disclosure, Pittsburghers for Public Transit is an organizational Non-Resident member of HDCG, with no voting power (since we are not a specifically Hill District organization) but we are given a place in the discussions. Having attended scores of neighborhood organization meetings around Allegheny County, I've been highly impressed with their organizational health, practical effectiveness, and equitable community engagement processes.

  10. Anonymous

    I don't think the bar for engaging with your city is that high. For the record, what I am saying is that it is much lower. I completely agree with the comment about going to any bus stop. Go to any bus stop and ask people whether they support any given initiative. Stop in at a coffee shop, bar, restaurant, etc. and ask people. That is EXACTLY what I am saying Bram. But, that doesn't mean that a particular pressure group represents those people.

  11. Anonymous

    RE: Tiger Grant: Section 110k of federal code, known as the “anticipatory demolition” section, is designed to prevent applicants (ie the city and SEA) from destroying historic properties (Civic Arena) prior to seeking Federal assistance in an effort to avoid the Section 106 process. The penalty for doing so is disqualification from future grants like Tiger. just sayin…

  12. Anonymous

    I guess no answer is an answer! I remember there was a course of brick lain, but then a lot of money was used inappropriately, but not criminally! Tight walk!! Who needs a super market when you get more PR outta whiny about your lack of!!

  13. Bram Reichbaum

    Actually some news just popped up…


    I was going to say, “Last I heard it's going to be open this autumn, but that was a while ago.” Looks like that's very much on track.

    It should be noted that represents a $1 million effort for the Pens out of what's been estimated as a Billion dollar subsidy / opportunity cost. The other 92% of it is from taxpayers, foundations and the store owner.

    The grocery store update surfaced as if on cue opposite this news:


    New post coming when it can. Actually taking the Mac to the Genius Bar today for various life-saving transplants and transfusions.

  14. BrianTH

    Note the SEA consulted with the PHMC about this precise issue, and in turn the PHMC consulted with the FHWA. The FHWA responded that because neither PennDOT nor the SPC had (at that time) plans to spend federal aid on projects in the Lower Hill, the FHWA could not participate in a Section 106 process at that time. Obviously the SPC is now contemplating a change in their plans, but I think the FHWA's response at the time should prevent any application of 16 U.S.C. § 470h-2(k) to this case.

  15. Bram Reichbaum

    By hook or by crook, that site's going to get developed anyway. It's way too valuable and too many people have invested their fantasies into it. This just slows things down a click – not necessarily a bad thing.

  16. MH

    I bet if UPMC had to pay property taxes on that parking lot, they'd be much quicker to either develop or sell to somebody who will develop. Maybe someone should look into that.

  17. Anonymous

    Parker, you found the smoking gun hidden in plain site since the Igloo law suit. The City can only blameitself for losing the opportunity by demolition of the Igloo before following Section 106. Its called antipicatory demolition and the penalty is no federal funding.

  18. Anonymous

    “The Penguins' ownership may have money, but that doesn't make them responsible to build public roads and utilities,” said team CEO David Morehouse.


    Mr. Morehouse, the taxpayers may have the money, but that doesnt make them responsible for further subsidizing the Penguins development and subsequent profits. Tiger Grants should go to innovative ideas like an incline to the Hill or a circulator trolley for the Strip, not roads for illegally demolished historic sites.

  19. Anonymous

    1. Actually SPC did have it listed at the time. 2. FWHA's response then does not change the application of the law. The law could never be enforced with such logic.

  20. BrianTH

    1. Really? How so? Note that claim is contradicted both by the FHWA's letter at the time, and the fact the SPC is currently amending its long range plans to include a plan for the Lower Hill street grid.

    2. Sure it could, just in a different situation. The FHWA's point was that the developers merely hoping that in the future they could apply for federal funding is not enough to trigger the 106 process, and therefore carrying out demolition under such circumstances is not an attempt to thwart the 106 process because no such process is available.

    But if, say, there was already an application for federal agency support pending, that would obviously be a different case, because then the relevant agency could participate in a 106 process. In between would be the relevant regional and state authorities at least having a plan to apply for federal agency support, and the FHWA seemed to be suggesting it would participate in a 106 process under those circumstances as well.

    So obviously the law still has plenty of possible applications given the FHWA's response. It just doesn't apply to situations where future federal funding is a mere aspiration of the developers, with nothing yet done to fulfill that aspiration that would trigger a 106 process.

  21. BrianTH

    They already had a plan in place before the TIGER grant became a possibility. So all that should happen now is reverting to that original plan. Specifically, I think that just means the infrastructure portion will be done in phases, rather than all at once.

    Of course it is still bad news–one way or another, that infrastructure funding is now likely to have to come out of state or local sources, rather than federal, unless they can try again in the future.

  22. BrianTH

    There really is no merit to that argument, and in fact it is almost surely estopped by the FHWA letter I linked above.

    You don't have to look for any special reasons why they didn't get the TIGER grant. It is a highly competitive program with lots more applicants each round than can be funded, and at the end of the day while this is a locally and regionally important project overall, the infrastructure portion of the project itself does not really stand out from the crowd of other infrastructure projects that other localities would like to get funded.

    So it is a bummer they didn't get it, but it should not be a surprise either.

  23. Anonymous

    Ah, what did you miss about “public roads and utilities.” Why should a private developer pay for public improvements?

  24. Anonymous

    Bill Peduto refused to support the application and refused to go to Washington to lobby for it. The letter he wrote that was just in the PG was actually written weeks ago when the lobbying effort was made. I don't think Bill killed this deal, but he definitely didn't help. These grants are highly competitive and you typically need support up and down the political spectrum. For the incoming Mayor to not support the grant is a big missing link. Bill should be ashamed. This will catch up with him soon enough. You can't act like that when you are mayor.

  25. Bram Reichbaum

    At the mall there are a lot of access roads and lanes through and around its own parking lots. Who pays for those? Because these “public streets” strike me functionally as closer to those. Not only do they only lead you around a monolithic development but they're not exactly “complete streets” or transit friendly… as of yet.

  26. Anonymous

    Every development big and small impacts public infrastructure given their loading/carrying capacity. The Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) produced a “trip generation manual” – (they are on their 9th edition) in identifying the number/types of trips produced by different types of development. Municipalities all over the nation utilize that as a rule of thumb for trip generation. In other states they have “impact fees” built into their ordinance whereby a developer/owner would pay into that fund to allow the municipality to upgrade/maintain their infrastructure – ie roads. Pittsburgh has that subsidy mentality – that we need to give in to their demands or subsidize them (TIF) in order for them to build here. Most developer/property owners would fight tooth and nail if requested for street improvements/modifications as result of what they are proposing. Summerset in Frick Park – why are we subsidizing infrastructure that would only benefit only high end residential units with little or no public benefit to show for?


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