Peduto asks developers to house displaced Penn Plaza residents
February 22, 2017 8:46 PM
Freshly cut trees lay outside the Penn Plaza Apartments in East Liberty on Feb 7.
Penn Plaza will be torn down to make way for the construction of a new Whole Food Market in East Liberty.
By Mark Belko, Adam Smeltz and Kate Giammarise / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Mayor Bill Peduto is appealing to East Liberty housing developers for help in finding new homes for the remaining residents of the Penn Plaza apartment complex facing displacement for a controversial Whole Foods Market and new residential redevelopment.
In a letter to the developers, which include Walnut Capital, the Mosites Co., Trek Development Group, and Action Housing, Mr. Peduto said about 20 residents out of more than 200 remain in the complex and “are still working hard to find housing.”
The remaining residents have a March 31 deadline to leave.
“These residents have lived through the hard times in East Liberty, and they deserve the opportunity to live through the good times,” the mayor said.
He added that each of the developers he is appealing to have made “significant investments” in housing in and around the neighborhood, “and in many cases the public made co-investments in your projects,” referring to various public subsidies.
“If you each are able to accept just a few residents, we can make sure that every resident of Penn Plaza is treated with respect and are provided the opportunity to continue to live in East Liberty,” he wrote.
The remaining residents at Penn Plaza have a March 31 deadline to leave the East Liberty apartment complex. (Lake Fong/Post-Gazette)
LG Realty Advisors, developer of the planned Whole Foods project, and affiliate Pennley Park South had reached a memorandum of understanding with the city last year to provide moving allowances, relocation assistance, and later move out dates to residents after sending notices advising them that they had to move within 90 days.
That prompted the intervention of the city and the subsequent agreement. LG Realty also agreed at the time to commit 50 percent of the tax increments from the redevelopment, which also includes 200 market-rate apartments in the first phase, to a fund set aside for affordable housing.
In his letter Wednesday, Mr. Peduto maintained that litigation brought by the developer over the planning commission’s rejection of its amended preliminary land development plan for the site “put the quality of lives of these remaining residents at risk.”
The city filed a complaint in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court Wednesday seeking an injunction to stop all demolition activity at the Penn Plaza site and to force Pennley Park to “provide a decent, sanitary building to the remaining tenants of the 5600 Building” as well as adequate heat and electricity.
In the complaint, the city claimed the developer has engaged in demolition activity before the March 31 deadline for residents to be out of the building and has failed to provide proper heating, all in violation of the memorandum of understanding. It also stated Pennley Park cut down 10 trees in violation of that agreement.
Jonathan Kamin, attorney for LG Realty and Pennley Park, said the developer “has acted in accordance with the memorandum of understanding and we will continue to do so.”
He called the city’s complaint a “ridiculous abuse of process.” He said he intends to seek sanctions against the city “for their frivolous abuse of process.”
Affordable housing activists had protested at the City-County building earlier this week, calling on officials to make sure the well-being of the remaining residents was protected, and requesting the mayor ask “developers that received millions of dollars of tax subsidies and/or cash subsidies to build luxury housing in East Liberty/Shadyside to now make such units that are sitting vacant available for rent to Penn Plaza residents.”
The dislocation of the Penn Plaza tenants and the larger problem of affordable housing in the city has become a hot-button issue.
“It’s energizing to see folks come down to city hall and fight for the things that we’re fighting for, which is a more equitable and affordable city. We were happy to accommodate some of the requests they made yesterday,” said Kevin Acklin, chief of staff for Mayor Peduto, speaking at a press conference Wednesday.
Randall Taylor, a former Penn Plaza resident said Wednesday he appreciated the Mayor’s efforts and hoped some developers would step forward to house the remaining tenants.
Mr. Taylor added that additional work by the city is needed to avoid such a situation occurring again in the future.
“There should never be a mass dislocation,” he said.
Todd Reidbord, Walnut Capital president, said he was willing to talk to Mr. Peduto about his request.
“We all want to be good citizens and members of the community. If there’s a way to make it work, we would like to make it work for everyone,” he said.
Mark Belko: email@example.com or 412-263-1262. Adam Smeltz: 412-263-2625, firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @asmeltz. Kate Giammarise: email@example.com or 412-263-3909 or on Twitter @KateGiammarise.
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