- The purchase of a historic Sewickley home by a local church, which had plans to tear it down and build a youth center that opponents believe will sully the perceived architectural and historical integrity of the neighborhood.
- The purchase of residential property in Leetsdale by the local school district, with the apparent intent of acquiring additional adjacent residences, demolish them, and pave paradise and put up a parking lot, with traffic routing changes for the nearby high school. Residents of the neighborhood, bolstered by their municipal officials, are questioning the district’s actions, justifications, and planning processes.
|Credit: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – Rebecca Droke|
When the Presbyterian Church of Sewickley purchased the nearby property from the descendants of Elliott and Carolyn Coyle earlier this year, is it possible that they could not have foreseen the outrage that their obtaining a demolition permit from Sewickley Borough could have brought toward their plans and their organization?
On Thorn Street, behind the Pink House on the other side of the alley, the Hamill kids were growing up, too. One of them, Sean, is now one of the better reporters at the Post-Gazette.
|Henning House, part of the campus of St. Stephen’s Church||.|
Sewickley Borough manager Kevin Flannery was kind enough to spend a few minutes to explain that the Pink House does not fall within the boundaries of the three Historic Districts established by ordinance in the 1980’s. St. Stephen’s, and the cavernous old duplex next door that is now an impressive example of restorative architecture, are.
They’ll probably park in front of the house again.
|Credit: Sewickley Herald – Kristina Serafini|
The Sewickley Herald has focused the bulk of their coverage on the student safety issue, specifically the practice of stopping in front of the school entrance to drop off or pick up students, which is prohibited. Herald reporter Bobby Cherry documented vehicles stopping and dropping off students during both school hours and evening events, with no apparent presence by either police or school district officials.
|Display at Leetsdale Borough Hall
on Primary Election Day, April 24.
Per Chief Santucci, this type of enforcement typically takes two officers to conduct safely. Chief Santucci added that his officers were “getting carpal tunnel” from writing parking tickets for those areas adjacent to the high school where parking is prohibited.
|Draft plan of proposed QVHS traffic control measures.
Quaker Village Shopping Center is in the upper left .
Credit: QVSD / Sewickley Patch
Q: Has the district had any official communication with the owners and/or managers of Quaker Village Shopping Center regarding this project? If so, what have the results been? Does the district have any other agreements with the Center ownership or management?
A: The District has had no communication with the property owners at the Quaker Village Shopping Center. I am not aware of any agreements that the District has with the owners of the Quaker Village Shopping Center.
Q: I have heard reservations..regarding the proposed parking and traffic solution, and its lack of at least egress into the rear of the shopping center. This would appear to be of paramount concern in an evacuation or other emergency scenario. Would the district consider approaching the shopping center to establish the kind of relationship necessary to provide for a traffic management plan that addresses these concerns?
A: The district might have some interest in this discussion especially because it relates to safety. However, obviously, it is premature to conduct such a discussion. The Board is giving serious consideration to conducting another traffic engineering study. I’m sure the topic of emergency evacuation will be a part of this study including recommendations.
I greatly appreciate the district’s willingness to respond to these queries, but I’m not sure about how establishing any form of dialogue with a long-standing, major commercial neighbor to their property could be considered “premature”.
As of last week, the District is still considering another traffic engineering study. That’s a good idea – the first one seems to betray some thinking for which I cannot think of better terms than “isolationist” and “counter-intuitive”. I’m trying to imagine what it would be like to try and get my car out of that lower parking lot in an emergency, with only one way in and out.
1. These two conflicts seem to have at their root a fundamental lack of communication caused by two different sets of circumstances. In the case of the Pink House, the neighborhood wasn’t considered a vital stakeholder in the process because there wasn’t any legal justification for it. There appear to be strong opinions on both sides of that argument.
As a consequence, Sewickley Borough may be encouraged to evaluate those areas of the borough that are designated for historic review. It’s been 25 years since the last historic district was codified as part of their ordinance, and it’s hard to fathom how an area that showcases examples such as the Pink House could be left out.
2. In the case of Leetsdale, the school district appeared to engage in some insular thinking here. Judging from the reactions of several borough officials (some with expertise in these areas), the draft plan for “improving” traffic flow, combined with a seemingly inexplicable lack of communication with the Shopping Center, made the entire initial exercise seem ham-handed.
District administration and the school board also appeared to fail by not taking into account some political factors – two elected officials, including the President of Council, having their properties potentially targeted without an attempt at communicating proactively with them, and other property owners, in advance.
It also didn’t help when the President of the School Board mentioned the “nuclear option” of eminent domain so early in the debate – it seemed to betray some thinking on his part that they’re the big, bad school district, and they’ll “negotiate” from a position of strength. Perhaps Quaker Valley could do itself and its constituents a favor by refocusing themselves on the fact that they are, first and foremost, public servants.
3. In the process of reading, listening, and asking questions, I’ve found that the reaction of Leetsdale Borough appears to be justified, but that they may have also contributed to their own indignation. There seemed to be a lack of continuity in determining what kind of information the borough had, when they had it, and who was responsible for conveying it to the remainder of borough government, as well as citizens, for substantive action and follow-up.
This bolsters my opinion, expressed last year, that the lack of a ‘point person’ to represent the borough on a daily basis, and coordinate the relationships between governmental entities and other stakeholders, hampers the borough’s ability to operate credibly and efficiently.
4. The media seemed to play a decisive role in communicating facts and information, and may have even become part of the story a bit. From the possible leveraging of long-term relationships, to “investigations” of when things are enforced and when they’re not, the reporting was nonetheless relevant and enjoyable. The online presentations and user commentary cemented the value of both hyperlocal news-gathering and regional specialty reporting.
5. At the end of it all, it seems that reasoned (if at times impassioned) discourse has triumphed in creating a pathway for which the two sides in each of these disputes can navigate their differences, and perhaps arrive at a solution that is in the best possible interest of everyone concerned.
This is perhaps an example of how America functions best – informed citizens engaged in civil debate to air and resolve differences, with respect as a solid foundational value, and a free press (including the Internet) to make sure that the facts are available to everyone.
Have a great week ahead.