Council wants say on Allentown police station

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A proposed police station move in Pittsburgh's southern neighborhoods faces delays and procedural questions as some on City Council demand a vote on the $1.7 million project.

Announced by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl in July, the shift of the Zone 3 station from South Side Flats to Allentown was to occur by Jan. 1 but now seems unlikely to happen before late March, because of the need to get waivers on accessibility rules.

The administration's decision to run the transformation of a former youth hostel into a police station through the Urban Redevelopment Authority, rather than city government, also may complicate matters.

Councilman Patrick Dowd wrote to Mr. Ravenstahl saying the project "clearly falls well outside of the scope of the URA's mission" and demanding that he "immediately bring this question before City Council."

"Before a dollar is spent, council must approve," Mr. Dowd said yesterday. "There'll be people who will claim that council is petty, political and unfocused. ... The easiest solution is coordination and communication."

The station shift was the mayor's response to violence on the hilltop above the South Side. Sunday's fatal shooting at Longo's Bank Cafe, next door to the would-be station on Warrington Avenue, was a reminder.

That shooting aside, the coming station has given hilltop neighborhoods "a little more hope than they had before," said Judy Hackel, head of the Allentown Community Development Corp. "The neighborhood has already changed just from the idea of it."

Progress, though, was slowed by the need for a state Accessibility Board variance allowing that some rooms used only by police remain inaccessible by wheelchair. That was granted in September. The city also is trying to buy enough property to boost the number of parking spaces from around 20 to 50.

Meanwhile, the URA is spending down the $81,000 its board approved for blueprints by Lami Grubb Architects. That Aug. 14 approval also called for the agency to "oversee the renovation of the building" with the understanding that the city will eventually reimburse it.

That doesn't sit well with Mr. Dowd. "Public safety is a city issue," he said. Spending on a police station is "a decision that needs to come before council" -- and not after the fact.

Police Bureau Manager John Warren said the city plans to submit the project to council next month as part of the 2009 capital budget. "I think we can put the proposals for bids out there prior to passage" of the budget, he said. "We can't close the contracts until something goes before council."

"I would expect that there would be council action before actual renovations take place," said Councilman Bruce Kraus, who represents the area.

Mr. Dowd said that failing to consult council on such a major project, and then putting it into an involved budget, is "a tactic that's unacceptable. ... In a world where the council and mayor are working collaboratively, those kinds of decisions and conversations would occur before the submission of a capital budget."

The administration on Monday won the Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority's approval for its 309-page, $440 million operating budget, and for a one-page summary of the $44.9 million capital budget. That document boosts spending on buildings and maintenance from $3.6 million this year to $6.15 million next year, while lowering spending on neighborhood development, vehicles and equipment.


Rich Lord can be reached at rlord@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1542.


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