by Kelsey Shea
A proposal to expand the boundaries of the Mexican War Streets Historic District was denied yesterday by Pittsburgh City Council due to strong opposition by Central Northside residents.
The proposal was submitted by the Allegheny City Central Association, the neighborhood group of the Central Northside, and recommended that the borders of the Mexican War Streets Historic District be expanded to encompass the majority of the neighborhood.
Eight city council members voted against the expansion, and City Council President Darlene Harris abstained. The decision cannot be appealed and the district cannot be nominated for another five years.
Councilman Daniel Lavelle, who represents the Central Northside’s district, voted against the proposal because he observed that the majority of the Central Northside residents who were in favor of the proposal already lived in the current historic district, while those who opposed it lived in the proposed expansion.
“Our goal is to put forth legislation that will create a conservation district, which I believe would be a win-win for the neighborhood,” said Lavelle, who hopes to begin working on legislation for the conservation district by early next week.
Residents who live in city historic districts are subject to rules and regulations that dictate new construction and the aesthetics of renovations.
Lavelle hopes that a conservation district would help appease both sides of the heated debate because the rules and regulations would be more lax and flexible.
The plan to expand the district was approved by the Historic Review Commission in February.
The ACCA hoped that the expansion would give the neighborhood group more leverage in dictating infill housing and demolition projects because the HRC would need to review work being done in the historic district.
“I think it’s important, especially with the infill, that we have some say in the character and scale of new construction in the neighborhood,” said Randi Marshack, CNNC vice president after the HRC approved the expansion.
However, many residents who lived on streets that would have been added to the historic district opposed the measure because they felt it would make renovations on their homes expensive and difficult and because the rules and regulations would box low income neighbors out of the neighborhood.
The Northside Coalition for Fair Housing took a particularly strong stand against the expansion of the historic district, and Executive Director Ronell Guy said she is “very pleased” with city council’s decision.
“I realized that there were a lot of people in the in the neighborhood who weren’t even aware that this was happening,” said Guy, who then surveyed residents door to door and found that they were against the expansion.
“We found out that it’s not what people wanted, so we realized our capacity and expertise to needed to be used to prevent this,” she said.
Guy explained that a historic district would discourage low-income families from moving into the Central Northside, and that it would make repairs expensive for those who already reside in the neighborhood.
“Just look at the Mexican War Streets. Can you find affordable housing there?,” said Guy. “I love the Mexican War Streets. They’re beautiful…But I don’t think that historic districts are for everyone.”