Residents say noise, debris reason for hearing request, not racism


This article was updated on Feb. 4 to include comments from the Northside Oldtimers. To read The Chronicle’s previous coverage on this issue, read ‘Tug of war over dog park between city, residents continues‘.

A City Council hearing Monday requested by petition signed by nearly three dozen area residents was meant to address excessive noise, litter and damage to the park caused by events in the park and not racism or animosity toward any specific groups, a North Avenue resident said.

Although homeowner Laurie Charlton said she filed the petition for the hearing to address the way permits are issued and enforced in Allegheny Commons Park for all park events, one group in particular, the Northside Oldtimers, took it personally.

The Oldtimers hold their anti-violence Unity Day gathering in the west side of the park each year, and felt that the petitioners singled them out because they are mostly black and the petitioners mostly white.

After reading the petition, which refers to “recent events” but does not name specific events, Oldtimers board member William Thompkins told The Chronicle he and other members of the group felt the petition was directed at them.

“There have been some very ugly things said,” Thompkins said. “If we were a non-African American association, would we have been responded to in the same way? I don’t know, but I don’t think so.”

Other events, though not as large, that are held in and around Allegheny Commons Park, include the annual African Arts in the Park, Deutschtown’s Pumpkinfest and an anti-violence rally held by the P.R.O.M.I.S.E. Group.

At the hearing, the Allegheny West Civic Council also requested a moratorium on park permits until the city could work with the Allegheny Commons Initiative to come up with a better set of rules and regulations for holding events in the park, said AWCC President Timothy Zinn.

Zinn said in an e-mail that AWCC’s biggest complaint was not groups using the park for events, but Steelers fans who light fires in the park, leave empty beer bottles lying around and dump coals from their grills onto the lawn.

“I think the accusations of racism are totally unfounded … and a result of sensationalism and poor journalism that somehow wrongly implicated Allegheny West as the originators of the petition and as the organization that requested the hearing,” Zinn said in the e-mail.

Councilman Daniel Lavelle, whose district includes Allegheny Commons Park where the Oldtimers hold their event, denied the moratorium, and told The Chronicle that the city’s process for issuing permits was not a problem.

“I think we may need to look at how we enforce during the actual day [of the events],” Lavelle said.

In speaking with individuals, Lavelle said he believes a lack of communication within the community left parties on both sides of the debate without all the necessary information.

“Unfortunately, it turned into a bigger deal than it had to be,” he said.

In August, the Oldtimers and residents who live around the park and dog owners who utilize the off-leash exercise area clashed over Unity Day.

Park users complained about chicken bones left in the dog park area and trash left around the neighborhood after both the 2009 and 2010 events, in addition to “no dogs allowed signs” that were posted during the 2009 event.

Oldtimer President Allen Turner told The Chronicle in August that he wasn’t sure where the animosity was coming from, as his group hired a constable service to not only police the event, but clean up afterwards. He did not mention race as an issue.

Thompkins said that the Oldtimers have made adjustments to better cleanup and police their event, and this year are looking more closely at how to properly clean up charcoal used in grills.

Charlton said that in terms of noise and cleanup, the Oldtimers event was “one of the better ones,” and that the hearing request was sparked by a succession of events along North Avenue.

One event featured a stage with speakers pointing toward the homes along North Avenue, including her own, Charlton said, and went on for most of the day. She did not know who organized the event or its name, but said it was “allegedly a peace thing,” and that organizers did not respond to her request to turn the volume down.

Julie Peterson, who lives on Resaca Avenue, signed Charlton’s petition and echoed her sentiments about events along North Avenue.

“We had everything you could imagine blasted down the street,” Peterson said, speaking about an event the name of which she did not know.

Peterson, who is vice president of the Central Northside Neighborhood Council but supported the petition as a resident, said she attempted to get in touch with the Northside Oldtimers before the hearing, as she was aware of past tensions.

“I really think that if the two parties had a chance to sit down and talk it wouldn’t have turned out like that,” Peterson said about the accusations of racism that flew at the hearing, and spilled over into an online neighborhood chat forum, Chat Northside.

The Central Northside Neighborhood Council did not present a testimony at the hearing and was not involved in the petition for the hearing.

Lavelle and City Council President Darlene Harris are currently arranging a meeting between all parties involved.

“We simply wanted the City and the Commons Initiative to work together to develop and enforce guidelines for the use of the park so that all users would be treated fairly,” Zinn said.

Thompkins said the Oldtimers are willing to sit down and discuss the issue of park use with other residents, but also said he felt there are underlying issues of racial tensions that need to be addressed in general.

“There is a level of divisiveness that exists in the Central Northside,” he said.

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