Dormont ponders selling green space on Hillsdale

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Dormont council is seeking request-for-development proposals for municipally owned green space at Hillsdale and West Liberty avenues.

The vote, taken during a meeting Monday, was 5-0. Two council members, Drew Lehman and John Maggio, were not present.

The measure, which came following recommendation by the borough planning commission, has drawn opposition from residents who want to preserve the vacant property in its current use as green space and have submitted petitions to that effect.

The DIG Dormont beautification group and borough staff members have maintained the area since council designated it as a “passive park” in 2008. The borough purchased the property in 2003 and subsequently demolished two buildings on the site.

Borough officials recently have discussed selling the property, which has an assessed value of $146,900 and would generate more than $1,300 in borough real estate taxes annually.

Council members, though, said the impetus goes beyond increased revenue.

“We’re not all about the money,” Councilwoman Onnie Costanzo said Monday. “I really would like to see it stay a park.”

Another council member, Valerie Martino, explained that she also generally supports green initiatives but supports examining the potential for a different use.

“It is ugly. You can’t say it’s not,” she said. “It looks like an abandoned lot. To just let it sit there and have no use to it is really a waste.”

DIG Dormont members at the meeting contended that they have little incentive to put money into improving the site when its future is uncertain.

The borough now will seek proposals from potential developers, which then will be subjected to review by the planning commission. There will be ample opportunity for further public comment, said Bill McCartney, council president.

The RFP process will allow the borough to have control over what happens to the property.

“The last thing I want to see is a big concrete building,” said Ms. Martino.

The planning commission’s recommendation calls specifically for the inclusion of public space for any development.

“It will be up to the developer to show how they can incorporate public space into the project,” Jeff Naftal, borough manager, wrote in a memo to council. “The planning commission and council can then evaluate the proposals received and determine if sufficient public space is provided. Should no proposals be acceptable to the borough, then the planning commission would recommend keeping the area as a park.”

Mr. Naftal also outlined issues pertaining to a Community Development Block Grant that the borough received toward improvements at the site, most of which went toward building a retaining wall.

“The borough can change the use after five years with no consequences,” he wrote. “If within the five years [prior to Aug. 31, 2016], then we would be responsible for reimbursing the amount of the grant, $34,346.80.

“If the property is developed, then the developer could be required to pay the reimbursement as part of their purchase of the property.”

Harry Funk, freelance writer:

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