As summer comes to an end the days might be getting shorter but the Allegheny West Civic Council agenda is getting longer. Below is a summary of some of the items on the agenda for the September 10th Membership meeting:
- The National Aviary is planning to convert their current tent to a permanent structure to hold events. The architects and project team representatives will be joining us to share plans and hear feedback.
- City of Play is planning the inaugural Pittsburgh FireWalk – a series of two Saturday evening, public celebrations in Allegheny Commons. An array of fires will be carefully tended with talented performers, local storytellers, and street vendors of food, drink, and art.
- A $13,000 Block Grant was recently awarded to Allegheny West. Diane Caruso, Friends of Allegheny West Committee Chair, is coordinating the effort to identify projects to fund through this grant.
- Victorian Christmas Tour Planning is underway. The tour will be held December 13th and 14th. Volunteer opportunities are numerous and varied.
- The Western Avenue Neighborhood Improvement District project has been on-going for over 10 years and we have not seen significant progress in some time. A revised plan to run electrical lines behind the properties in the 800 block of Western Avenue has been drafted and property owners are being contacted to approve the new plan. An update on the status and next steps will be provided.
- Historic District Expansion discussions have been occurring at the Housing and Planning Committee meetings and an informational meeting is being organized for neighbors affected by the proposed expansion.
- An Allegheny West Civic Council By-Laws Committee is being formed to review and offer revisions to the current by laws.
As you can see from this list there is a lot of activity for our small neighborhood. All are welcome and encouraged to attend the General Membership meetings as well as the committee meetings taking place throughout each month.
“All you need in the world is love and laughter. That’s all anybody needs.
To have love in one hand and laughter in the other.” ― August Wilson
Allegheny West Civic Council business typically slows down dramatically during July and August, with the Council often not holding General Membership meetings during these high summer months. Because we do have to vote on the budget, we will hold the July meeting as scheduled on Tuesday, July 9th. However, our regular meeting space at Calvary Methodist is not available so we will relocate the meeting for July. The alternate location is not yet confirmed, information will be provided via email blast so please be on the lookout for that update. The July meeting will also be somewhat abbreviated as we’ll have time constraints – the Treasurer’s report and budget will have top billing, followed by Ways and Means and Housing and Planning updates.
We head into the slower summer months on the heels of a very busy spring. There are some people who deserve a special mention for their efforts on recent neighborhood events:
Carol Gomrick – Chair of the Tour and Tasting event which was a big success in large part due to Carol’s hard work. So many people volunteered their gardens, time, talents, etc. and Carol coordinated all that work! It was an impressive team effort and we’re lucky to have Carol leading the way!
Greg Coll – and his team pulled off a lovely Memorial Day picnic even going so far as to arranging perfect weather.
Diane Caruso and Trish Burton – are responsible for the new brick pathway and beautiful look of the parklet at Western Avenue and Brighton Road. They corralled resources to finish this garden upgrade before the tour and it looks great.
Of course there are many others volunteering their time towards Allegheny West projects and events, we are very lucky to have many neighbors who give their time so generously.
And speaking of August Wilson, the cast and crew of the movie, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom will be around the neighborhood, particularly on the 800 block of W North Avenue filming in the next couple of weeks. Look for flyers with details on road closings and contact info to be distributed to affected homes.
The July 4th neighborhood picnic will highlight love, laughter and a rib cook off. Hope to see you there!
Every year the Northside Leadership Conference hosts a Scholarship and Awards Dinner to celebrate students, neighborhoods and lifetime volunteers. Each Northside neighborhood selects a “Neighbor of the Year” and this year’s Allegheny West Neighbor of the Year is Holly Pultz. There is an article in this issue of the Gazette that highlights the many reasons Holly is receiving the award and when you read it, I think you’ll agree that it is much deserved.
Holly joins an impressive group of Allegheny West Neighbors of the Year, many who continue to contribute their time and talents. Last years honorees, Greg Coll and Doris Short, had a busy May with the opening of the Allegheny West Historic Timeline Exhibition, as well as Greg’s efforts as the Membership Committee Chairperson in pulling off another stellar Memorial Day Picnic. Dr. Daniel Strinkowski, 2017 Neighbor of the Year, still works relentlessly to keep litter off the streets of Allegheny West. Another Neighbor of the Year alum, Trish Burton, serves as Communications Chairperson and volunteers her time to make sure we’re all informed of community activities and announcements.
The journey to becoming a future Neighbor of the Year starts with a single step. I encourage everyone reading this to join one of the committees that do the legwork for Allegheny West Civic Council business. Below are some very active committees always looking for new members. Chairperson contact information is included. If you need some help finding the right volunteer opportunity, please reach out to me at President@AlleghenyWest.org.
- Housing and Planning Committee works on matters related to the physical planning and housing conditions in Allegheny West. Some topics on the H&P agenda are: Western Avenue Neighborhood Improvement District, Allegheny West Historic District expansion, Norfolk Southern Railroad double stacked train project and Code Enforcement concerns. The committee meets every 3rd Tuesday, 7:30 pm at 806 Western Avenue. All are welcome to attend.
Chairperson: Ashley Webb (email@example.com)
- Ways and Means Committee is responsible for all fundraising activities of the Council. Upcoming tours are Wine and Garden Tour (June 21st-22nd), Alleys, Axles and Ales (Date TBD) and the Victorian Christmas Tour (December 6th-7th).
Chairperson: Annette Trunzo (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Finance Committee works with the Treasurer to manage the Allegheny West Civic Council Budget – including managing assets, liabilities, revenues, and debts. The Finance Committee is looking for new members with accounting and/or financial management experience.
Treasurer: Cathy Serventi (email@example.com)
Spring is a wonderful time in Allegheny West, with the bright greens and colorful blooms popping up everywhere. It’s also a time for renewal, which fits perfectly with May as National Preservation Month. The Presidential Proclamation of May 1973 establishing National Preservation Week read in part:
“As the pace of change accelerates in the world around us, Americans more than ever need a lively awareness of our roots and origins in the past on which to base our sense of identity in the present and our directions for the future.”
In 2005, the National Trust extended the celebration to the entire month of May and we here in Allegheny West have a number of ways to celebrate our historic past.
As is tradition, the Local Historic Review Committee (LHRC) will present Allegheny West Preservation awards at the membership meeting on Tuesday, May 14th. The LHRC recognizes neighborhood property owners who have “rehabilitated, preserved, and continued use of old buildings consistent with the intent of the Secretary of the Interior’s ‘Standard for Rehabilitation’.”
On Friday, May 17th, 5:00 – 8:00 pm, Allegheny West Civic Council is hosting an opening reception for the Allegheny West Historic Timeline Exhibition, in collaboration with Community College of Allegheny County. The exhibition will be at the Gallery at West Hall at CCAC and will run through June 9th. Curators Doris Short and Greg Coll describe it as a “celebration of over five decades of rebuilding the smallest neighborhood in Pittsburgh.” The exhibition is free and open to the public.
Those of us fortunate enough to live in Allegheny West owe a debt of gratitude to the early pioneers who built the homes in the neighborhood and the more recent pioneers with the foresight to stop the destruction and focus on preserving and renewing what was here. I recently received an email from John Canning, noted historian and former AW resident, who saw the blooms on the beautiful pink dogwood in the 800 block of Western Avenue and forwarded an article he wrote about one of those later pioneers, Jane Johnson. (That article is reprinted with John’s permission in this issue of the Gazette.) It serves as a reminder of the beauty of spring and renewal and the power of an individual to make a lasting impact.
There is a lot of Allegheny West business on the agenda for the May membership meeting and I hope you’ll make an effort to attend, hear about these important subjects and vote on motions offered at the meeting. Like you’ll be hearing at every turn from now until November 2020, Make Your Voice Heard: Vote! (Your membership dues should be paid to Cathy Serventi, AWCC Treasurer, to be eligible to vote. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.)
Historic Preservation is always a topic of discussion in Allegheny West and for good reason.
The Allegheny West Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. Allegheny West is one of twelve city historic districts in Pittsburgh. Each historic district has published guidelines that are designed to “help individual property owners formulate plans for the rehabilitation, preservation, and continued use of old buildings consistent with the intent of the Secretary of the Interior’s Standard for Rehabilitation.” These Guidelines for Historic Districts are available on the City of Pittsburgh website at pittsburghpa.gov/dcp/historic. Historic District maps are also available at this website, showing detailed boundaries of each district.
Because Allegheny West is a city historic district, all exterior work that is visible from a right of way, a street or an alley, needs a Certificate of Appropriateness (CoA), and, depending on the type of project, possibly a building permit. The Local Historic Review Commission (LHRC) and the Historic Review Commission (HRC) use the guidelines when reviewing appropriateness of proposed exterior alterations in designated historic districts.
Recent agendas for both the AWCC Membership and Housing and Planning meetings have included topics related to LHRC and HRC. Two notable items are a proposed expansion of the current Allegheny West historic district boundary and the Stables Building project on W North Avenue.
Because of these topics, because we have quite a few new neighbors and because we could all use a refresher on the special rules that come with living in a designated historic district, we have invited Sarah Quinn, Planner with the City of Pittsburgh, to join us at the April Membership meeting and review the Historic Review Commission objectives and process.
Topics to be covered include:
- HRC applications for proposed work – how to submit them and fees involved
- HRC versus LHRC
- Allegheny West neighborhood guidelines and where to access them
- Historic district affect on property values
- Differences between property use and historic value – i.e. a structure can be any “use” (residential, commercial, industrial, mixed, etc.) and can be deemed historic
Sarah’s presentation will be an hour in length and will be the first item on the agenda. Please plan to attend!
Results of an informal survey conducted over the past week show that by a margin of 3:1 local residents believe spring will arrive at some point in 2019. Let’s hope it’s soon and sustained, springtime in Allegheny West is so beautiful we quickly forget these cold, snowy days.
Last month’s hot topics were railroads and parks and they will continue to be high priority topics in our membership meetings. There was some recent news regarding the proposed double-stacked trains running through the Northside when the City of Pittsburgh officially joined us in the fight. The City’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure filed legal paperwork to participate in the state Public Utility Commission’s review of Norfolk Southern’s plans. The challenge from the city will likely delay Norfolk Southern’s planned bridge work, slated to start later this year. This is certainly good news but does not put the issue to bed. We need to remain vigilant and continue to let our elected officials know our concerns. I’ve heard from a few neighbors who have contacted their state and local legislators – that’s awesome and hopefully inspiration to the rest of us!
The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy Listening Tour made a stop at the AWCC Membership Meeting in February. They shared a lot of information about the process the Conservancy will follow to allocate funds to improve city parks. As part of the process they requested residents complete a survey to weigh in on what we love about our parks. If you haven’t yet taken the survey you can find it on their website: pittsburghparks.org
Specifically related to our park, the Park Conservancy folks agreed to join us at another membership meeting to talk about plans for Allegheny Commons and feedback from Allegheny West. Details will be communicated when the schedule is confirmed. (One sign of the Conservancy’s commitment to Allegheny Commons Park – this year’s Spring Hat Luncheon will be held there this May 4th.)
I mentioned previously in this column that one of the priorities of the Housing and Planning Committee, under the direction of Chairman Ashley Webb, is a renewed focus on neighborhood rejuvenation. In 2015-2016, AWCC received a grant and engaged a landscape architecture firm to conduct a study, based on input from neighbors, on areas of improvement that should be addressed in Allegheny West. There were a lot of meetings and discussions at the time and ultimately the Civic Council membership decided to focus on four areas of improvement: street trees and sidewalks, lighting, traffic calming on W North Avenue and Brighton Road and the Mary Cassatt Garden (the garden area in the on-ramp to the Fort Duquesne Bridge). We have a lot of work to do on this initiative, and the first step is getting everyone who wants to participate engaged. Neighborhood Rejuvenation will be on the March 12th AWCC Membership meeting agenda and more information will available over the next few weeks. If you’re ready to sign up now to help, contact me at email@example.com and/or Ashley at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Enjoy these waning days of winter and I look forward to seeing everyone emerge from hibernation!
As Tip O’Neill famously said, “All politics is local”. Whether he was referring to trains and parks is disputable but those are topics at the forefront of the Allegheny West political scene.
On Monday, February 4th , more than 40 neighbors attended a meeting to learn more about Norfolk Southern Railroad’s plans to run double stack trains through Pittsburgh’s Northside. The presentation focused on the potential negative impacts, and it was alarming. From derailments and explosions to degradation of air quality – this is a serious situation and we need to be engaged to advocate for our community. We’re lucky to have John DeSantis and Ashley Webb serving on the Northside Leadership Conference Bridge Committee, but please consider what you can do to help, too. Local and state elected officials are working with the Bridge Committee and your input, via in-person conversations, phone calls and emails, will encourage them to keep this issue front and center. Right now there is a call for volunteers to install equipment to help monitor changes in air quality, to monitor and report idling trains and to assist in developing a website to centrally disseminate updates.
Specific details on how to volunteer will be posted on the Allegheny West website and e-Newsletter in the coming weeks.
On Tuesday, February 12th, the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy listening tour comes to Allegheny West. The majority of the February AWCC Membership meeting agenda that night will be devoted to the Parks team. (The meeting is held at 7:30 pm at the Calvary United Methodist Church, at 971 Beech Avenue.) During this community meeting, the Parks Conservancy will be gathering feedback on what neighbors love about their parks, and what they would love to improve – please join the conversation and make your voice heard.
On behalf of the incoming AWCC Executive Board I’d like to wish everyone a Happy New Year! It’s looking like another exciting year in our neighborhood and the Board members are ready to get to work.
We want to acknowledge exiting Board Members – Elaine Stone, Tim Zinn, Carol Gomrick, Fran Barbush and Dan Adam – and thank them for their many hours of service to AWCC and their efforts working with new Board members to ensure a smooth transition. John Desantis will continue on the AWCC Executive Board as Past President, but deserves a particular mention and thank you for his work as President over the past two years. John obviously is passionate about our neighborhood, he has generously given his time and knowledge, as well as his home, to protect and advance the neighborhood vision. This is true not only of his recent term as President, but for many years before and many to come – thank you, John!
During the transition to the new year and new board there are ongoing projects that will need AWCC involvement without a pause. A couple examples of these are CCAC’s proposed new Workforce Development Center and the Southern Norfolk Railroad raised tracks proposal. As the 2019 Housing and Planning Chair, Ashley Webb will have a lot on his plate and will look to us for input and support.
Cathy Serventi, 2019 AWCC Treasurer, is another Board Member with a full plate right away. The beginning of the year marks the beginning of the budgeting process. This year, Cathy and the Finance Committee will be working on ways to make this process, and the subsequent financial reporting, a little clearer and easier to understand.
Allegheny West Civic Council budget, non-budget expenditures, support or non-support of projects affecting us, to name a few examples, is determined by vote of the membership. I would encourage everyone to become familiar and participate so that the voice of Allegheny West truly reflects the majority of residents in Allegheny West.
Allegheny West Civic Council membership meetings take place on the second Tuesday of each month at 7:30 pm at Calvary Church. With everything else in our lives, it’s hard to allocate time for neighborhood meetings – can you make every other meeting? One a quarter? What do you need to stay up-to-date on the things you’re concerned about? I’d love to hear from you – drop a note to email@example.com and let me know what you’re thinking. Keep in mind though, you have to attend a meeting and vote to have your opinion officially counted.
As this month we will be electing a new slate of officers to serve the AWCC in the coming year, it’s a good time to pay attention to the single most distinctive aspect of our small but mighty community organization. Among the City of Pittsburgh’s 88 neighborhoods, nearly all of them have a civic organization which attempts to serve the needs of those who live and work there. Allegheny West is distinguished by having one of the oldest, most effective, and most consistently stable of these.
When our Nominating Committee meets each year to assemble a proposed slate of officers and committee chairpersons for the following year, the task can be formidable. In some city neighborhoods, there are more than 10,000 residents – that’s a considerably larger pool of prospective volunteers than our tiny population of roughly 400. And yet, year after year, we not only have folks who are willing to serve – they routinely do so as if it were their full-time paying job. Donating their time and talent to their neighbors, they embrace the opportunity to continue moving us forward.
Many decades ago, AWCC created an organizational structure that includes two-year term limits for all offices. This creates challenges in finding volunteers of course, when every office has to turn over at least every other year. But it also prevents president-for-life-type dynasties that can often plague small groups. And most importantly, it forces AWCC to constantly be welcoming and developing new leadership from throughout the community. Most of our new officers for 2019 were not even in Allegheny West ten years ago; some not five years ago. That is a VERY healthy sign for any neighborhood organization.
At the same time, the core of our institutional memory is the large number of long-time members – many of whom have served as officers in the past – who show up for every meeting to make sure that we stay on track. The continued commitment of these active mentors makes it possible for new leadership to comfortably move ahead without fear of making critical missteps. These Members are a living blueprint of what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.
When folks from other community organizations look at Allegheny West and its many successes, they frequently ask how we manage to do this so well – year after year, decade after decade. The answer is anything but simple. We have been blessed for many decades with an amazing stream of volunteers who step up as newcomers, serve admirably and often in multiple positions across the years, and then remain committed to assuring that their successors have strong support and guidance. Our greatest blessing is a small but dedicated band of devoted neighbors who make their community a lifelong priority. Next time you see one of them, tell them “Thank You!”
Know what a MILLENNIAL is? Broadly defined as folks in their 20s and 30s, this large young segment of the population is being chased by every community and business in America. They are recognized correctly as the future: those who will bring vitality and shape the course of the nation across the next 50 years. The most popular yardstick of success among American municipalities is currently their ability (or inability) to attract this critical next generation of residents.
So imagine our delight in learning that IN ALL OF PENNSYLVANIA, the Allegheny West and Manchester zip code 15233 is second only to Lawrenceville (15201) in attracting millennial residents between 2011 and 2016 – increasing our share by 41.5% during that time. Our Zip Code is now 49% Millennial, with 644 as of 2016!
What we have in Allegheny West is exactly what these folks are seeking, and that is not by accident. Across more than half a century, the AWCC and its members have focused intensely on creating a neighborhood which preserved and enhanced its architectural and historic heritage, provided outstanding quality of life for those who live here, and a pleasant balance of local business and community amenities to serve those residents. From the beginning, the strategy was simple: if you build it, they will come. They have, and they continue to do so in increasing numbers.
But as far as we’ve progressed, we certainly have plenty more to do.
Far too much of our neighborhood is vacant land, where surface parking lots generate enough money as an amenity for suburbanites on just ten days a year to prevent new homes and businesses from being built on those sites instead. Replacing the impacts of empty asphalt, congested traffic, and bad fan behavior with hundreds of new neighbors, new amenities, and much needed new tax revenue for our City continues to be a long awaited priority.
Inappropriate and disruptive uses continue to impact their neighbors, important buildings continue to deteriorate in the hands of unconcerned absentee owners, and the lure of a quick buck continues to attract speculators whose greed is conveniently oblivious to how their neighbors are affected. All of these require consistent and aggressive vigilance, as well as progressive development to counter them.
Staying on mission has always been a challenge – none of these issues is new. However, Allegheny West has always been extraordinarily effective at persistently overcoming all of those and more – just as we will continue to do going forward.
The Millennials have voted with their feet. And that’s a sure sign that we’ve been doing a lot right!