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Planning Not to Be Planned Out of East Liberty's Future

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Before big developers can come any further into East Liberty, residents want to try to influence the process.

"The community can weigh in on what [is] the highest value project," says Rob Stephany, director of commercial development with East Liberty Development, Inc., one of the groups that sponsored a planning workshop Oct. 4 at the Calvary Episcopal Church in Shadyside.

After years in the doldrums, the vacant industrial buildings along Penn Avenue are astir with activity. A few local developers are eyeing the defunct Nabisco plant for a mix of retail and residential uses. Across the street, the shuttered Reizenstein Middle School, owned by the Pittsburgh Board of Education, is expected to be sold. A wildly popular national grocery chain, Trader Joe's, is slated to set up shop at the former Wheeler's Paint site by November, while Staples will occupy the recently closed Shop n' Save.

The community will be in a better position to see the kind of developments it wants if residents rally around a vision, Stephany says. Then, he says, "it often is clear if a development being proposed doesn't meet the spirit of it."

One group that huddled for discussion on future developments around Reizenstein couldn't quite agree on whether to reconnect some of the streets truncated by the construction of the school and the park surrounding it. Antonio Castracani was all for connections: "It's a pain in the neck to get to Mellon Park" from his house off Shady Avenue near Denniston, he said. But some-- particularly residents of the relatively isolated Village of Shadyside, a planned community of condominiums -- feared that reconnecting the streetscape might bring more traffic to narrower streets.

"God forbid if a Hummer comes through [Marchand Street]," said one Village resident who would not give his name. "Why can't you leave the busy streets busy streets?"

Those in charge of the workshops explained zoning minutiae and injected a dose of market reality.

"We'd want the community to be as informed as possible about market forces," says Stephany. "Markets drive change, but at the end of the day you've got to draw the line in the sand."

To participate in the discussion through the East Liberty development blog, see www.eastlibertypost.com.

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