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!
The summer of 2018 has been even more eventful than usual here in Allegheny West. As we approach autumn, here’s at least a bit of what’s happening…
A special thanks goes out to the AW Party Team (yes, there really is such a thing), and “Partier-in-Chief” Greg Coll, who pulled together and treated all of us to three GREAT Summer street picnics – on Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day. This neighborhood tradition goes back into the 1970s, and couldn’t have been in better hands this season! And, although the Party Team now gets a well-earned rest, they’re always looking for more volunteers to help out when those picnics roll around next year!
The Housing & Planning Committee under Tim Zinn has been working diligently through the Summer as they process the many upcoming developments, impacts and issues for our neighborhood. At the September 11th Membership meeting, you’ll hear reports of positive progress on subjects as diverse as the railroad through the park and the overpass bridges, the scrap yard on Behan Street, guidelines for new construction on vacant sites and the growing issue city-wide of AirBnBs.
More Special Thanks – this time to Trish Burton’s Friends of Allegheny West, whose monthly neighborhood clean-ups make a world of difference for all of us. And when you’re strolling Western Avenue and enjoying the dozens of colorful hanging flower baskets, it’s Friends that make all of that happen too. Next year they’ll be tackling all of those empty tree planting beds along Western as well!
Our Ways & Means Committee is headed by Carol Gomrick, and has a distinction unmatched by any other community organization in the county: Mounting four different major fundraising events within six months. Did we mention that these folks are ALL volunteers?! With the very successful Wine & Garden Tour completed in June, Ways & Means now moves into its wildest part of the calendar – with the new Premier Wine Event on September 15, the very popular Alleys, Axles, & Ales car show just two weeks later (Thanks Cecile Canales and Tom Barbush), and then the region’s biggest annual house tour: our Allegheny West Victorian Christmas Tour in December. Of course, volunteers are needed for ALL of these!
Nearly a decade after it was initially proposed, we are finally moving forward with our Western Avenue Gateway project, which will expand the AW Parklet at the corner of Western and Brighton to include several community garden plots, an appropriate encircling iron fence and prominent signage welcoming passersby to our community. Not a bad Summer for the City’s smallest neighborhood!
See you at Tuesday’s meeting for details on all of these – and lots more.
There will be NO AWCC MEMBERSHIP MEETING ON TUESDAY JULY 10. In the summer – and if there are no pressing business matters to discuss – we sometimes opt to take the second Tuesday of the month off. And that’s just what we’ve done this month – a little break while things are slow and the weather’s nice. The various AWCC Committees will continue to meet on their regular schedules, only the monthly Membership Meeting will be absent from the calendar. So instead of getting together with your neighbors for a Civic Council meeting on Tuesday evening, perhaps you can consider another form of traditional Allegheny West socializing: the friendly neighborhood stroll!
For those who are new to this, a brief primer:
Whether it’s for a few minutes or a few hours, get out of the house and see what the rest of your neighbors are up to. For a while, you may choose to sit on your stoop or porch with a cool drink, chatting with the folks who pass by. And for a while, you can become one of the passersby as you explore your own street as well as those that you visit less frequently. The most important part of all this strolling begins with a single word: “Hello.”
To long-time friends and complete strangers, whether spoken from the porch to a stroller passing by, or from the sidewalk to a stoop-sitter … don’t hesitate to strike up a conversation. In fact, the less that you know the person you’re speaking with, the more rewarding this evening journey will become.
Tuesday will be the perfect evening to get out, have some fun and meet more of your neighbors. It’s so much easier than in mid-January!
So what are you doing on Tuesday evening?
Join your neighbors on Tuesday, June 12th at 7:30 pm at Calvary Church for the June meeting of the Allegheny West Civic Council. Each month this is where we make decisions about our neighborhood – decisions that in ways both small and large will affect you. And we always have a good time socializing and enjoying refreshments.
Everyone is welcome – second Tuesday of each month, 7:30 p, in the Calvary Church social hall, corner of Beech and Allegheny Avenues (use the Beech Avenue entrance). The meeting is usually over by 9:00 p,. It’s also a great way for newer folks to meet your neighbors and get involved! We hope to see you on Tuesday evening!