One Hill Coalition Appeals Planning Commission Approval of New Penguins Arena Master Development Plan

February 19, 2008 -- Pittsburgh UNITED

Pittsburgh UNITED has brought attention to the need for a CBA around the new Pittsburgh Penguins hockey arena development in the Hill District and some of the gaps in the local development process through its recent actions – most notably the appeal of the Pittsburgh City Planning Commission’s decision to approve the arena master development plan.  The events leading up to this decision and subsequent appeal are quite complex as illustrated in the timetable below:

Sept. 2007: One Hill CBA Coalition began negotiations with city officials, county officials, the Sports & Exhibition Authority (SEA), and the Pittsburgh Penguins using One Hill’s CBA “Blueprint for a Livable Hill” as a template.  Negotiations continued for the next few months, though the Penguins only attended the first few meetings.

Dec. 13th: One Hill representatives and regional allies attended the Planning Commission hearing to present their concerns with the arena master development plan and stress the need for a signed CBA in place before the plan’s approval.

Jan. 3rd 2008: City Mayor and County Executive sent their own signed, sealed and delivered CBA proposal to One Hill.

Jan. 7th: The One Hill membership resoundingly rejected the city/county proposal and burned it at a press conference stating the proposal is vague and general, is not binding on any parties, ignores many community asks, and simply does not meet the requirements to be a true community benefits agreement.

Jan. 8th: One Hill hosted a well-attended community development tour with Hill District leaders, supportive regional organizations, elected officials, and the media.

The city/county proposal rejection and tour resulted in two weeks of very positive media supporting One Hill and CBAs and highlighting the need for negotiations to continue.

Jan. 13th:
 One Hill resumed negotiations with city, county, SEA over the weekend before the continued hearing and vote of arena master development plan by the Planning Commission.

Jan. 14th: One Hill and City Mayor, speaking on behalf of himself and the County Executive, had a press conference stating that in return for assurances that elected officials finalize a CBA, One Hill officially would not delay the Planning Commission process.  Residents, regional organizations and others still spoke at the continued Planning Commission hearing urging members to delay the vote until a CBA is signed.  However, the commission still approved the Master Development Plan with a 5-3 vote.

Negotiations were halted while City Mayor and County Executive were in Europe for nearly two weeks followed by another two weeks of inaction.

Feb. 13th: One Hill, with Pittsburgh UNITED and other organizations, announced its appeal of the Planning Commission’s plan approval at a press conference in front of the City-County Building.  With only 30 days allowed to file an appeal, One Hill asserted its right to do so on the last day allowed since a finalized CBA did not yet exist.

In the appeal, One Hill claimed that the Pittsburgh Penguins failed to prove that its master development plan application satisfied all six criteria set forth in the zoning code.  As many community members expressed at the hearing, the appeal discusses how the negative social and environment impacts of the new arena and the need to ensure minority business enterprise contracting and local employment to comply with city policy are not addressed in the plan. 

The appeal also describes how the Planning Commission process had some procedural violations, including inadequately presenting a revised traffic study and design changes before the hearing as well as the refusal to allow testimony by people who spoke at the previous public hearing in December at the continued hearing in January despite introduction of new information.  Another issue addressed in the appeal was the absence of one commission member during the hearing of community members and regional allies (to attend a college basketball game) who returned to vote to approve the plan without having heard or considered the public concerns.  Also, the commission had failed to produce a written decision or minutes from the December and January meetings.

At the press conference announcing the appeal, Carl Redwood, chairman of One Hill Coalition said, "The One Hill Coalition is very clear that this project will not proceed unless there's a community benefits agreement."  One Hill requests a hearing, withdrawal of the commission’s decision, and a process to address the issues discussed in the appeal.

The appeal itself raises serious concerns around how development is done in the City of Pittsburgh.  While seeking to challenge the current process, we have learned how important it is to know what is going to happen during public board and commission meetings.  We were able to adequately prepare for the public hearings through research on the arena development process, Planning Commission meetings and members, and development criteria used to assess applications.  This research, distributed in the form of fact sheets, helped contribute to informed phone banking, excellent turn-out and well-made arguments by One Hill members and supporters.

The One Hill Coalition will continue to demand accountability from the Pittsburgh land use process and organize to ensure that the demands of working families of our city are met through a signed community benefits agreement.

Written by Natalie Greene with assistance from Tom Hoffman, Pittsburgh UNITED Executive Director.