806 Western Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15233

Letter from the President – October 2016

Dr Martins and Howard HannaThis just make me happy! Well, finally closing on 928 Western probably helped too. While we were doing the paperwork finalize the sale, our new neighbor, Dr. Moshood Martins and I got to meet Mr. Howard Hanna the 90+ year old founder of the Howard Hanna Real Estate Company. (That’s their picture on the left.) I’d like to thank our realtor Mario Costanza, our attorney Josh Farber, and the AWDC board (Tim & Dan with Bob G. consulting) for guiding us through a complex process. Welcome Moe and Dr. James Worry (who purchased 930 Western earlier this year) when you see them around. I’m sure they’ll want the names of your contractors.

Also, just a reminder that the Nominating Committee will be presenting the slate and accepting nominations from the floor for the 2017 Board of Directors. In order to be eligible to vote your Membership dues must be paid for the current 2016 year by the end of the October Membership meeting. Dues paid after the September 2015 membership meeting count for this year. For the bargain price of $3 annual you get the privilege of formally voting for officers and motions at the monthly meetings or serving as Committee chairs (woo hoo!). If you’re not ready for that level of commitment, you are always welcome to attend meetings to participate in discussions (and block parties! And bowling & bocce! And volunteer on tours!).

Enclosed is a membership form that can be returned to the office or at the meeting with your payment or you can pay your dues online. We beg you, please (please!) don’t hand me or Bob three partially wadded up $1 bills at the Modern next week. It’s very stressful trying to remember who handed you those $3 when you find them in your pocket after you’ve run through the laundry a week later. (Ask me how I know.)

Finally, I’ll be traveling for work during next week’s membership meeting. Please be nice to Tim while he’s ably performing his duties as Vice President.

Cathy Serventi
President, AWCC

Letter from the President – September 2016

I always think of the summer time as a busy time in the neighborhood: there always so many fun and interesting things to choose from I never feel like I have enough time even with the extra daylight hours. But looking through this month’s Gazette (and the blessedly small) space left for the President’s message, I realize that there’s no such thing as quiet time around here. Not only are we in the middle of two(!) tours, but work has started on the photo/video House History project headed by Doris, Greg, Nick and Natasha; we’re moving forward on implementing the plans that came out the of the Buhl Foundation grant; lots of decisions need to be made about the parklet garden before we put it to bed for the season; and Gloria and Housing & Planning are dragging the Western Ave. project (kicking & screaming) into completion. Projects like these are opportunities for you to put your own stamp on the future direction the neighborhood; whether you’re the more social type or are happier hiding behind a keyboard (like I am right now!). We always get a better outcome when we have lots of people willing to apply their own various expertise to any given problem that we need to solve. Please (PLEASE) reach out to the various people who have stuck their neck out and taken the lead on these projects and offer your time and talent.

Catherine Serventi
President, AWCC

Letter from the President – July 2016

Come early to the Tuesday membership meeting if you’d like to hear more details about the final report for the Buhl Foundation. We’ve made some refinements to the report that was presented a few months ago, but to go over all of them during the regular meeting would make an already long (hot) meeting even longer. So we’re setting up some time before the meeting starts for the folks who really get into the nitty gritty details some time for discussion. We’ll be posting the (60+ page!) report online on as soon as I can figure out how to multiple sets of passwords reconfigured. (Just as an aside: was the victim of some pretty intense hacking recently and Gene and Nick spent a huge amount of time reconfiguring everything and locking stuff down. Why can’t people just be nice?)

I’ll send out an email blast this weekend with the proposed wording of the motions we’d like to make around the plans for: the Mary Cassatt garden; traffic calming on W. North and Brighton w/ additional parking; replacing lighting where need and an incredibly ambitious plan for replacing trees and sidewalks throughout the neighborhood. We’re especially interested in folks who are willing to serve on a working group to get some of these plans enacted; so if you’re interested please try and come at 7:00 pm. Some of these plans are controversial, so I want to make sure we have time to discuss them in more detail without totally overwhelming an already crowded agenda. (But ask Executive Committee how quickly we blasted through a huge agenda last Tuesday: someone’s spouse complained their partner wanted more time out of the house and was disappointed!)

We’ll also make sure there are hard copies of the report available in the office (M/F 12:00–3:00) or you can call me at (412) 418-2027 and I can arrange to get you a copy if you can’t go over to Western during office hours. I’m super excited about this: it’s the culmination of months of work and we can’t wait to share it with all of you.

Catherine Serventi
President, AWCC

Letter from the President – June 2016

WE SOLD THE STABLES! Okay, just had to tell someone that before I started talking about the budget.

Also, THE WINE TOUR WAS A GREAT SUCCESS! Special thanks to our fearless leader, Carrie: the tour’s a huge a responsibility and she managed this one with grace and humor. OK, budget.

Well, actually, before the we get to the budget, at this month’s membership meeting we’ll also have a follow up from the Light of Life about the Ridge Avenue project. They’ll be asking us to take a formal position during upcoming zoning board hearings. Nick will also be giving us all an update on what happened to all those House Histories we’ve been collecting.

OK, budget. (Ssh…don’t tell anyone, but I don’t actually dislike talking about the budget; I love getting down into the nitty gritty of the numbers, and formatting spreadsheets is the height of zen for me, but I worry that people will think that I’m a little weird.) This month we’re hoping to finalize the budget for the next fiscal year (July 16 – June 17). In order for us to have a binding vote, we really need to reach quorum, so please come, at least for a little while if you can. The Board has some recommendations beyond the initial draft budget we presented last month, such as:

  • request for a scanner/copier for the office
  • additional funds for Calvary for sidewalk repair
  • funds for board training, especially around financial planning now that we’ve sold most of our income- producing property (Have I mentioned that WE SOLD THE STABLES?)

I’m always happy to discuss specifics with folks and do my best to represent a wide range of opinions at the meeting – but I can’t stress enough – that attending the meetings and participating in the discussion and vote are really the only way to ensure that your opinions are taken into account. (If Allegheny West were a state, we would so be a caucus state – and that will be the only election humor I can trust myself with.) See you all Tuesday!

Catherine Serventi
President, AWCC

Letter from the President – May 2016

Welcome to the insert of the Allegheny West Gazette, home of the content for people who can’t meet perfectly reasonable Newsletter
deadlines. Just a few quick updates since even with the insert, we have so much going on it won’t fit in a regular size newsletter.

  • Thanks to everyone who participated in the session with Jim Pashek at last month’s membership meeting. He shared some great plans around the priorities that folks have put forward which include several strategies for addressing our aging tree population, unsafe sidewalks and dangerous pedestrian crossings at place like Beech Avenue & Brighton Road, North Avenue and near the T-station. We also have a complete inventory of all the trees & tree-wells in the entire neighborhood, as well as a proposal for the Mary Cassatt garden. Jim continues to meet with the City and we’ll have a final proposal to vote on at either the June or July meeting.
  • Yay! The summer picnics are starting! The first one is Memorial Day on Monday, May 30. Please come by and help set up at 3:00 pm. This month we’ll be in the 800 block of Beech. Bocce should be starting up soon on Wednesday evenings! Look for the announcements.
  • Thanks to Tim for hosting an awesome Marathon party (Maybe we should lobby to be at the end next year? Man, 6:00 am is early even with all the awesome food everyone brought!) and for all the folks who turned out to clean up the neighborhood and the parklet the Saturday before. Dr. Dan (who deserves special thanks for his tireless litter removal offorts) says that the City street sweepers have told him, that we’re the cleanest neighborhood in the City. Keep up the good work everyone!

Catherine Serventi
President, AWCC

Letter from the President – April 2016

I love the season of flowering trees, even if it means I can’t breathe for the duration – darn allergies – but totally worth it!

So I was involved in a long and complicated email discussion about neighborhood development priorities and strategies (don’t feel sorry too for me, as far as hobbies go it’s actually cheaper than my current coloring book habit), which, as is generally par for the course, didn’t actually yield a particular decision (we need a vote for that anyway). What it did do was really help to clarify what I think the Civic Council’s primary agenda should be for any given real estate matter. If you said “More Parking” this is probably your first time reading the President’s message. If you chose “Historic Preservation” then you’ve probably been chatting trapped with me at the appetizer table next to the chocolate covered Pringles someone keeps bringing to neighborhood get togethers. (If “Paperwork” was the first thing you thought of, I’ve apparently cornered you after having a couple of cocktails at one of the previously mentioned get togethers.) And, yes, I will proudly admit that Historic Preservation is very definitely one of my personal motivations for being involved with the Civic Council, or heck, even why I live in the neighborhood in the first place. However, my personal motivations are not the same thing as what I think the Civic Council’s agenda should be. I realized that for any given issue the Civic Council’s main agenda should be a transparent and accountable process for deciding what “our” agenda should be. “Transparent” in the sense that it’s clear when and how we arrived at a particular position that we take whether it’s about zoning or, (sigh) parking. “Accountable” in that the Board is responsible for documenting the decisions of the membership and making sure they are actually carried out. As neighbors, our primary responsibility then becomes to clearly and passionately stand up for our own points of view while, at the same time, at least making a good faith effort to understand the impacts those points of view have on other folks in the neighborhood. Transparent and accountable processes are completely dependent on the folks involved in those processes being willing and able to clearly state their own needs and preferences even if there’s a possibility that they might be unpopular.

And have I got just the opportunity for you to be able to passionately yet respectfully communicate your point of view. As part of the Buhl One Northside Grant that AWCC received, Jim Pashek has been meeting with City and County offices to address some of the issues identified in our original community meetings. He will be returning on April 12th at 6:30 pm to report back and get our feedback and our next steps. Please join us at 6:30 pm at Calvary, before the Membership Meeting to continue the discussions we started this winter.

As the weather turns nicer get ready for all the great outdoor events. Tour tickets are on sale! Carrie will be hosting a Tour meeting on Monday April 11th for anyone wanting to be involved. Scott will be setting up a giant Membership Committee meeting, to discuss picnics and art shows and 50th anniversary celebrations (oh my!). Neighborhood cleanups start soon, too. I’m looking forward to hearing your well-reasoned and enthusiastic points of view of what main courses we should be serving at the 4th of July picnics (or even about parking). Happy Spring everyone!

Catherine Serventi
President, AWCC

Letter from the President – March 2016

Just a few quick updates:

Round two of the meetings for the Buhl Foundation One Northside Grant will take place at 6:30 pm at Calvary Church before the meeting Membership meeting on Tuesday, March 8. Jim Pashek, the consultant we’re working with, has been meeting with various City departments and needs our feedback on what issues we want to emphasize.

We closed on 930 Western this week! Please welcome Dr. James Worry to the neighborhood. He’s already got all of his approvals and permits, and he’s ready to start making amazing things happen! (Maybe we should get him to teach a workshop on how to navigate bureaucracy?) Do you think I should tell him now that we snuck a clause into the sales agreement that he’s required to be on the Christmas Tour by 2018?

I’m joking, of course, about any “requirements” to be on the tour (although I make no promises about not resorting to peer pressure), but this is a good time to remind folks that planning is underway for the June Wine & Garden Tour. If you’re interested in volunteering or having your house/garden on the tour, please contact Carrie at The tour is scheduled for the first weekend in June.

We’ll also be taking orders for this Spring flower baskets along Western. We need to confirm prices for sponsorships this year, but stay tuned for more information, and definitely let us know if you want to sponsor a basket (or 2 or 4). E-mail us at: Thanks to Trish and Holly who offered to take this on for another year!

Catherine Serventi
President, AWCC

P.S. Greetings from India! There’s nothing quite like traveling in faraway lands to make you appreciate home. I think I’m going to start our meeting on Tuesday (where parking and traffic are bound to come up) with the video that I took from my hotel window of the traffic. Lane lines or even traffic direction(!) are really more of a suggestion here. (Although I’ll still be chasing after drivers going the wrong way on Beech and N. Lincoln.)

Letter from the President – February 2016

Decisions, decisions…

Please come to the membership meeting this month. There are several issues that the Civic Council needs to make a decision on, and the more input we have the more likely we are to make decisions that benefit the entire neighborhood. (Plus, honestly, we need a quorum to actually make a decision…and I begged the ZBA for an extension and we’ll look kind of goofy if we still can’t take a position.)

First up: The Stables building has been in front of the Historic Review Commission and the Zoning Board of Adjustments this week. The Historic Review Commission has continued the decision to next month and asked the developer to address specific issues such as the proposed fourth story addition to the Stables, and design elements that more clearly differentiate the new addition from the historic building. AWCC has an option to make recommendations or raise concerns at next month’s hearing. The developers also managed to snag a spot on an incredibly crowded ZBA hearing agenda. (Apparently the next unscheduled openings are in April/May…I’m choosing to take that as a sign that there are lots of potentially interesting projects happening in the City, although I realize there are other possible interpretations.) However, because the hearing was scheduled after the developer’s presentation to the Membership, the ZBA agreed to give us 10 extra days to take a formal position and submit evidence. I want to make sure people are able to make an informed decision, so if there are specific pieces of information that people want to have in front of them at the meeting please send me a quick email at We will provide the most current plans available, although the density and height requests have not changed since the last presentation. (Please please help us get to quorum…my dignity thanks you.)

Light of Life will also be presenting a plan for a zoning variance. They are requesting to increase the height of the wall on the property on Ridge Avenue to better secure the property. They also have made some additional progress on a plan to overhaul how their services are distributed on the Northside. It’s still in the early stages but we expect them to return in the next few months asking for additional community input.

Also, the Pittsburgh Oldtimers are also going to be on hand to make a presentation to the neighbors.

Finally, I’d like your opinion on how we should make use of the crime reports that the Zone 1 police department has started producing at the NSLC safety committee’s request. I’m one of those people who avoids the evening news because I think it spends too much time reporting on “interesting” crimes and it ends up making me paranoid and depressed. (Facebook, mumble mumble…) On the other hand, I’m a lover of data for data’s sake, and do think it’s important that we have an accurate understanding of what’s going on in our neighborhood. It’s really hard to argue for more resources if the official reports don’t show any issues in the neighborhood. I’m waffling between just posting the reports on the website and actually sending them to the email lists. I welcome your thoughts on this.

Trade-off: There always seem to be trade-offs.

Catherine Serventi
President, AWCC

Letter from the President – January 2016

Happy New Year, Everyone!

I’m one of those people who makes, and occasionally even keeps, New Year’s resolutions, so I thought I would share a couple of the resolutions I made for this year.

But before I do that, I do want to take a minute to send out a huge thank you to everyone who did such an amazing job on the Tour. Trish, along with Gloria & Carrie were really able to recruit and organize an amazing amount of support for the tour. I’m tempted to just list out everyone who helped but I’m pretty sure that it would take up the entire newsletter. I’m not sure folks realize that over 100 volunteers participate in the tour every year! For a neighborhood of somewhere around 300 people that just boggles my mind. We’ve been working with some of the other neighborhoods on how to support each other’s efforts and when people ask us how we manage to pull ours off I always end up saying “Have wonderful, great, amazing neighbors!” Not sure how useful that advice actually is, but frankly it’s the truth. Please join us for a Tour wrap up discussion before Tuesday’s membership meeting (7:00pm) so we can run through what worked really well and any ideas for things we want to try differently next year.

Back to the resolutions. This is it, this is the year! WE ARE GOING TO FINISH REVISING THE BYLAWS! There I said it, you all heard me. Feel free to stop me on the street and ask me how the bylaws are coming along. I promise not to deluge you with the minutiae of current best practices around conflicts of interest for Board of Directors for nonprofits. (Unless you really want to know…) A couple of more areas we also want to address are things like defining more clearly eligibility for voting memberships and the accountability and management of funds. If you’re interested in our current Bylaws they are posted on our site. Gloria, Jim and Bob M. have also put in a lot of effort on this project which will hopefully end soon.

Also, the grant for the Buhl Foundation came through, so you’ll start hearing a lot more from Martha and I about how we can improve quality of life. I have some other goals: sell all the real estate! Organize the filing in the office! But the bylaws and the Buhl grant will be my main focus for this year. Stay tuned to hear more from new and returning Committee chairs for their plans as well.

Finally, I hope to see you all at the first meeting of the new year. We’ll have presentations from the folks who are purchasing the Stables (yay!) about their plans for it, as well as our annual update from Calvary. We’ll also be welcoming the new Board members and thanking Board members who are rolling off the Board or changing positions. Hope to see you all there!

Catherine Serventi
President, AWCC

Letter from the President – December 2015

So we have a decision to make. If everyone could put down the House Tour decorations for a minute, Councilwoman Harris has asked for the Civic Council to weigh in on the new proposed food truck legislation. You can read the proposed legislation here that loosens restrictions on food trucks. It’s a hard question and there are legitimate concerns on both sides that need to be considered before the neighborhood takes a position. The Board has been checking in with residents and business owners on Western (the trucks will still only be allowed on non-residential streets), to understand their concerns, but for the Civic Council to take a formal position we need to have a vote. I would encourage everyone who feels strongly either way to please come to the membership meeting on Tuesday to contribute to the discussion. We’ll do our best to keep the conversation focused so folks can go back to their house tour projects in a reasonable amount of time. If you’re interested in the subject and want to read up on the subject here are some resources on the topic:

…and, if you really want to go all out, here’s a dissertation about food trucks in North Carolina:

  • An Empirical Study of the Emergence and Policy Implications of the Food Truck Industry in the Research Triangle Region

Speaking of interesting studies, a bunch of folks in the neighborhood ended up at a conferences about Historic Preservation in Pittsburgh put together by the City.  I’m super glad I decided to burn some vacation days to attend, since my commitment to Historic Preservation was why I wanted to live in Allegheny West in the first place. As much as I’m a cheerleader for the Historic Review Commission and the preservation guidelines, even I was surprised how clear the positive economic impacts for things like property values and even employment that the rules have.  The Historic Review Commission has posted the study they commission for Pittsburgh.

I also have been to a Complete Streets meeting, a Zoning Board workshop, and a talk by Mayor Fetterman from Braddock about urban renewal. Let that be a warning to anyone who ends up next to me at the cheese table during the House Tour Volunteer party. I’ve been in historic preservation and urban planning nerd heaven lately.

On behalf of the Tour Committee I want to thank the incredible amount of people who have dedicated literally hundreds of hours to make this tour a success! We’ve all been overwhelmed by how willing folks have been to step up. I can’t wait for the tour and the volunteer party…)

Catherine Serventi
President, AWCC