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                                                                  Pittsburgh Penguins/Urban Design Associates
This artist's rendering from September shows the proposed redevelopment of the former Civic Arena site in the Lower Hill District.

By Mark Belko / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Trust, but verify.

That’s essentially what Hill District leaders are looking to the city planning commission to do as it relates to the Pittsburgh Penguins’ plans for redeveloping the former Civic Arena site.

They want commission members to help police the deal they and local politicians, including Mayor Bill Peduto, reached with the team in September regarding levels of affordable housing, minority and women business participation, and other matters in the proposed $440 million redevelopment.

Talk of incorporating the community collaboration implementation plan, or CCIP, into the commission’s approval of the team’s preliminary land development plan for redeveloping the 28-acre site dominated a public hearing Tuesday on the proposal.

Doing so is “absolutely imperative” if the Penguins and their developers are to be held accountable in meeting the requirements of the CCIP, said Marimba Milliones, president and CEO of the Hill Community Development Corp.

“If we are going to honor this historic agreement, then we need to make sure that there is something in place for you to measure future land development plans,” she told the commission.

Ms. Milliones said that she believes the commission has the authority to incorporate the agreement into the land development plan and to oversee its implementation under the city code.

She noted that one of the criteria members are to consider in approving that plan is whether it creates a “favorable environmental, social and economic impact on the city.” The CCIP, she added, goes right to the heart of social and economic impact.

The Penguins are opposed to incorporating the CCIP into the approval of the land development plan. But they are not the only ones with reservations.

City Planning Director Ray Gastil said he has concerns that the commission would be overstepping its authority in taking on such a role. He noted that the CCIP itself sets up an executive committee comprised of Hill, Penguins, and city representatives to oversee the agreement.

“I don’t see a planning commission being involved in developer selection. As a best practice, I don’t see a planning commission being involved in dispute resolution,” Mr. Gastil said.

Dusty Elias Kirk, the Penguins’ attorney, said the team is including the CCIP as a “reference document” in the preliminary land development plan. Developers also will have to sign a statement affirming the goals of the agreement before moving ahead with any construction.

Mark Belko: or 412-263-1262.

In their presentation, the Penguins estimated the proposed residential, office and commercial development would create 4,204 permanent jobs and generate $27 million a year in tax revenue.

“The Penguins want everyone to comply with it,” she said.

But requiring planning commission oversight creates problems, Ms. Kirk said. She noted, for instance, there are other city agencies charged with policing minority and women business participation programs.

“If one developer misses the deadline or missed a goal is the next developer going to be held accountable for someone else missing the goal? That’s the problem with the planning commission enforcing it. It’s just not the right place,” she said.

“I think you truly have in front of you, again, a truly transformational opportunity for the city, not only because of what’s happening on site, but also what will come from this project in terms of how it really builds wealth for a community that hasn’t seen it for a long time,” Kevin Acklin, Mr. Peduto’s chief of staff, told commission members.

Mark Belko: or 412-263-1262.

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Date Published: 
Wednesday, November 19, 2014 | 412-765-1820 |

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