Side-tracked? A railroad's lawsuit makes a point about the Strip
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All along we and others who treasure the Strip District have said that the city must move carefully on Buncher Co.'s $400 million proposal to develop housing, retail and office space on 55 acres between Smallman Street and the Allegheny River.
Although the development promises Pittsburgh certain benefits -- attractive riverfront living, a new lure for businesses and greater tax revenue -- it must not come at the expense of the character and charm of one of the city's most popular neighborhoods.
The latest reminder of this tension comes in a lawsuit filed last week against the plan in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court by the Allegheny Valley Railroad Co.
The railroad, which operates the line that serves the Strip's 80-year-old Pittsburgh Produce Terminal, claims the Buncher plan would violate a 1981 deed covenant that required the city's Urban Redevelopment Authority, owner of the terminal building, to use its "best efforts" to provide space for produce wholesalers or "some other rail-oriented use." The development proposal would demolish a third of the building and install office and retail stores in other parts of the terminal.
The URA has said that implementation of the Buncher plan would not harm produce sales in the Strip District. Yet the authority and the developer have not taken steps to ensure that this form of commerce emblematic of the Strip -- merchants with open stalls of fresh fruits and vegetables -- would be held harmless against changes posed by the development.
Now an economic stakeholder in the neighborhood, a railroad that serves the produce business, is declaring it would be hurt. Its suit should not be taken lightly.
In June the railroad's CEO sent city council a letter asking for $1.8 million to cover losses due to the plan and the recent departure of a major customer from the terminal. That suggests the Allegheny Valley Railroad, in the end, may be content to walk away with a financial settlement.
That should not be good enough for Pittsburghers, however, and others who cherish this neighborhood. Thirty-one years ago city officials approved a covenant that said, in essence, that the produce business was an integral part of the Strip District. It was true then and it's true now.
The URA and Buncher must make sure that remains the same even if the development moves ahead.
First Published October 4, 2012 12:00 am