PPSA Statement on the City Planning Commission’s Resolution of Concern

On May 15, the City Planning Commission unanimously passed a “resolution of concern” asking the City to change the way it presents information on the consequences development has on residents and neighborhoods.

Unfortunately, it’s unclear what concrete effect that resolution will have. Therefore, we’re recommending a number of steps be taken regarding this resolution of concern. See our thoughts in the below letter, which we sent this week to members of the Planning Department, members of the Planning Commission, City Council, Mayor, and Chief of Staff of the City of Pittsburgh. (See the original letter here.)

To the Members of the Planning Department, Members of the Planning Commission, City Council, Mayor, and Chief of Staff of the City of Pittsburgh:

We are writing to offer some suggestions for City Planning to learn everything it can from the case of LG Realty’s RAPLDP at the former Penn Plaza site. We have developed these recommendations over a year of studying the issues, listening to racially and economically diverse Pittsburghers discuss the plan since October 2017, and by participating in the public process over the last several months.

The public hearing on May 15 revealed a huge gap between how LG presented the social and economic impact of the “Pennley Park South” redevelopment in its RAPLDP on one hand, and on the other, how the public understands it. The way that the process was handled and vote was pushed through has done much damage to the reputation of the City government and sown distrust in the public towards City Planning, which appeared to minimize the need for a developer to articulate a development’s “social, economic, and environmental” benefit, and to minimize public input on the “Pennley Park South” redevelopment plan.

We believe that the public process was handled poorly, that the plan strategically obscured the displacement of hundreds of residents from the development site, obscured the developer’s contribution to the city’s segregation problem and other social harms, and failed to describe in any clear way the jobs to be created and the projected effects are on the tax base, including its own diversions to a weak “replacement” housing plan.

In fact, City Planning’s lack of a framework for evaluating these benefits was made clear when the Commission agreed to a “resolution of concern” stating that “a framework or index” is needed “to evaluate social, economic, and environmental benefit, comprehensive citywide data and trends, neighborhood profiles and ultimately neighborhood plans, a public process policy, and a housing strategy index, that will allow us to make decisions on projects such as this, in an informed way, to address those criteria that were forementioned” (Commission Chair Mondor during the public hearing, referring to criteria c, d, and i).1

We recommend the following steps regarding this resolution of concern:

1) The overall framework for evaluating “favorable social impact” of a development plan should include information about any social harm effected in teeing up for the development. If there is any displacement of residents or businesses, this information needs to be included in the plan in sufficient detail, including the number of residents, businesses, and/or employees displaced, whether they belong to protected classes, where they ended up, and whether they have articulated a right of return. Furthermore, any documented favorable social impact must at least be sufficient to outweigh any documented social harm that would result from the development plan that the developer caused prior to plan submission. Moreover, the Commission should give the public an opportunity in public to introduce evidence of social impact/social harm prior to the hearing.

2) Any finding of favorable social impact must be based on actual documented evidence and not mere speculative assertions by the developer.

3) With regard to a “housing strategy index,” any development should be evaluated with the context of the city’s housing data, e.g., the housing needs assessment on the housing deficit already performed and deployed by the City of Pittsburgh.

4) We support the development of registered community organizations, democratically accountable organizations, that are given tools by City Planning to contribute robustly to neighborhood plans and gather public input throughout the planning process of a development. CDCs that have no public accountability should not be registered community organizations.

5) On public process, where we have observed a number of failures since the LG/City of Pittsburgh consent decree was announced, we suggest the following:

a) The “public input” or any public interest referred to in a consent decree or development plan must include input from those residents who are the most impacted by the development—not simply groups of people who live in the neighborhood, or people who may be of like race or ethnicity. Any residents displaced by the development must be reached out to and given the opportunity to provide input as significant stakeholders.

b) Notification of public meetings and hearings must be at least 14 days prior, and include the name of the applicant, a brief description of the plan and its neighborhood impacts, information about any displacement that will or has occurred, and information about how objections or support can be sent (including but not limited to online communication).

c) These notifications should be robust, and not limited to primarily online announcements. Newspaper ads, any available billboards, and television local news should all announce these important events for public input. Impacted residences and businesses in the neighborhood should be notified via flyer or U.S. mail. Street frontages onsite and surrounding the site should have signs about the plan.

d) Public comments at public meetings should be fully transcribed. Facilitate written feedback and questions from the public, and ensure that the applicant provide concrete, direct written responses to questions, both oral and written. Provide to both the Planning Commission and the public.

e) If there is a petition with a significant number of signatures, hold a public hearing specifically about the petition.

f) The number of public meetings should fit the magnitude of the development plan.

g) At least one public hearing by the Planning Commission should be held after regular work hours to enable robust public participation.

6) As a group, we also support the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing task force’s draft recommendation for “Fair Housing Criteria for the Assessment of Proposed Development Projects: When assessing proposed development projects, all jurisdictions, commissions, and authorities should perform an analysis and require a showing that the project will not perpetuate patterns of segregation or effectively exclude members of protected classes. This should include, at a minimum, an analysis of the correlation between the market characteristics of the proposed development (bedroom count, rent structure and marketing plan) and the demand characteristics of people in protected classes (the housing needs of people in protected classes in the relevant market area), as well as an analysis of the accessibility of the project and location. Jurisdictions, commissions and authorities should work with fair housing lawyers, advocates/members of protected classes, the Commission on Human Relations and the City-County AFFH Task Force to develop specific criteria for this assessment.”


Penn Plaza Support & Action Coalition

1 Here is the full transcription of the comment: “Commissioner Dick made a motion to pass a resolution of concern which allows Director Gastil to take this to whoever he needs to in the city, that the planning commission needs—shall I list these again?—a framework or index to evaluate social, economic, and environmental benefit, comprehensive citywide data and trends, neighborhood profiles and ultimately neighborhood plans, a public process policy, and a housing strategy index, that will allow us to make decisions on projects such as this, in an informed way, to address those criteria that were forementioned.”

PPSA statement on the Planning Commission’s decision

On May 15, the City Planning Commission voted 4-2 in favor of LG Realty’s luxury office & retail plan for the Penn Plaza site in East Liberty, where hundreds of residents were displaced in 2016 and 2017. The vote came after four and a half hours of public testimony and deliberation on the plan.

Penn Plaza Support and Action is disappointed in the Planning Commission’s decision. However, we applaud our community for coming together to speak out against this plan. Over 1,200 residents wrote letters urging the Commission to vote “no” on the plan, and dozens showed up to protest it at the hearing. Both the Pittsburgh Planning Department and Planning Commission mentioned it was the biggest response to a plan in Pittsburgh’s recent history. Not only that, but public testimony remained focused on the ethical implications of displacing hundreds of residents. We never lost sight of what we’re truly for: holding Pittsburgh to its promises of affordable housing.

Additionally, we’ve exposed ways in which the public process favors developers — and our collective outcry is changing the system. Commissioners unanimously passed a “resolution of concern” asking the City to change the way it presents information on the consequences development has on residents and neighborhoods. This could potentially help the Commission make more informed decisions in the future.

Even though this vote was decided, the struggle isn’t over. We will never stop supporting displaced residents, and we will continue fighting for affordable housing on the site and in the City.

Putting Penn Plaza & LG’s plan in context: CMU Tech4Society and East Liberty Photo Project

Will LG Realty’s development plan for Penn Plaza have a positive social and economic impact on the City of Pittsburgh? The below data from CMU Tech4Society and photos from East Liberty Photo Project argue that it won’t.

A few months ago, CMU Tech4Society created a series of maps and infographics to show the larger context of displacement that Penn Plaza is a part of. The group’s research found that displacement disproportionately affects Black and low-income people.

Now, these infographics have been adjusted for inflation. The new graphics make it clear that rents are rising in East Liberty at a higher rate than inflation can account for.

Continue reading “Putting Penn Plaza & LG’s plan in context: CMU Tech4Society and East Liberty Photo Project”

Penn Plaza Public Hearing: Say NO to LG’s luxury development

Penn Plaza Matters

On May 15, the Planning Commission will hear public comment on LG’s new development plan for the Penn Plaza site. Tell them to vote NO on this plan, which will create HIGHER RENTS, MORE BLIGHT, MORE SEGREGATION, & MORE DISPLACEMENT.

PLEASE NOTE: This is also election day, so make sure you vote that day!

After demolishing the homes of over 500 long-time East Liberty residents, LG Realty’s proposed redevelopment includes nearly 1,000,000 sq ft of luxury retail and office space, and ZERO affordable housing. On top of that, they are trying to shuffle a rubber-stamped “community process” through as neighborhood consent, when hundreds of residents have showed up to meetings to voice opposition.

The City has refused to reschedule the hearing so it wouldn’t fall on election day. This is another example of the “public process” being broken. Come out and MAKE YOUR VOICES HEARD!

WHERE: 200 Ross Street, 1st floor
WHEN: Tuesday, May 15 at 2 p.m.

CAN’T MAKE IT? Write a quick letter to the Planning Commission asking them to VOTE NO on LG’s luxury plan, and to create a legacy of housing justice. You can use our form letter here OR write your own letter. Correspondence can be emailed to dolores.hanna@pittsburghpa.gov or dropped off or mailed to 200 Ross Street, Suite 309, Pittsburgh, PA 15219. (Talking points for letters can be found here.)

From the City Planning Commission’s website: Public testimony is welcome during Planning Commission hearings and is limited to 3 minutes. No advance registration is required, but interpreters for the hearing impaired will be provided with 4 days’ notice by contacting Richard Meritzer at 412-255-2102. Written testimony may also be sent in advance of any Commission hearing.

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Tell the Planning Commission to vote NO on LG’s Development Plan

We’ve made it easy for you to ask the City of Pittsburgh Planning Commission to vote “NO” on LG’s development plan for luxury office and retail at the Penn Plaza site. Simply scroll down and click the button to input your name & send your letter. (Don’t worry, you can edit the letter before sending if you wish.)

To make an even greater impact, you can write your own letter to the Planning Commission and email it to dolores.hanna@pittsburghpa.gov with “Pennley Park South Development Plan” in the subject line. THANK YOU!

Dear City of Pittsburgh Planning Commission,

I am writing to ask you to vote “NO” on LG Realty’s redevelopment plan for the former Penn Plaza site (Pennley Park South). This plan fails to meet many of your criteria, namely 922.11.B.3 c), d), & i).

In preparation for this development, LG displaced hundreds of low-income residents out of their walkable, high-amenity, high public-transit- access neighborhood — many to locations with poor amenities and transit, & with much higher concentrations of poverty. A retail & office project with no identified anchor tenant in a neighborhood with high retail & office vacancy does nothing to demonstrate positive “social and economic impact” (criterion c). LG should demonstrate that their project would create an actual, measurable, and non-speculative positive social impact that more than offsets the social harm they have caused.

Furthermore, LG’s mass eviction of residents of color and low-income tenants and demolition of affordable housing has damaged the city’s “public health, safety, morals, comfort or general welfare” (criterion d). Without addressing this damage, LG’s new plan — part of a deal made behind closed doors without the input of displaced residents — contributes to Pittsburgh’s history of housing policies and planning decisions that have strengthened patterns of racial inequity.

Finally, LG claims to benefit the community by contributing less than half of their tax subsidy to fund “replacement” “affordable” housing units, but their definition of affordability is far beyond the means of displaced Penn Plaza residents, & many who have lived in the neighborhood for decades. Some of these units would be far from East Liberty and its amenities. The plan does not identify the other sources that would contribute to this “replacement” housing, how likely these sources would materialize, & how much LG would contribute to each unit. Without concrete evidence, the plans for “affordable” housing are entirely speculative. Please remember what happened with the plans for affordable units recently on the Penguins’ Lower Hill site.

Also, since it does not address the city’s affordable housing gap of nearly 20,000 units, this plan squarely contradicts many of Pittsburgh’s “plans and policy documents” (criterion i), including OnePGH, P4, and many recommendations of the Affordable Housing Task Force.

It is time for the city to live up to the pronouncement of the Mayor’s office that “if it’s not for all, it’s not for us.”

Send your letter now