Back in the Saddle

I’ve been neglecting this site for far too long, mostly because with all that’s going on in the rest of my life I have not had the time or energy to compile a report on the Township Council meetings. So I’ve been attending all along, and feeling a bit guilty about not sharing what I hear. Some of it is downright interesting: improvements to the Meadow Park ball field, a proposal for new development related to the Aspinwall Riverfront Park, the ongoing saga of the new community center, successful restarting of a bus route into RIDC Park. Some is not so interesting, and sometimes I’m a bit annoyed at some of the discussions.

But you should have a chance to hear it all, and I’ll wager that most of you aren’t spending much time pursuing the minutes published a month or more after each meeting. So last meeting, I tried a little experiment: I sat and “tweeted” a play by play of the meeting @InformedOhara. It’s pretty clear that some of you saw that, so I’m going to continue those reports. Tune in tonight for the latest updates.  I expect to be engendering a bit of discussion during the “Citizens Concerns on Non Agenda Items” so the first tweets may delayed,  but stay tuned. Or join your fellow citizens in person at 7 and experience a meeting live.  I’ve also added the Twitter feed to this page, so you can always check back here at your convenience.

Hope this helps all of you to be more informed about the place you live and how it governs itself. Trust me, it’s never boring…

Cindy

Plans Available for 2015 Saxonburg Bridge Reconstruction

I received a request from an engineer at Lochner, the civil engineering firm involved with plans to upgrade the bridge just south of the Brownshill/Berry Hill intersection with Saxonburg to share the following notice:

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Plans Available for
PennDOT Bridge Reconstruction Project on Saxonburg Blvd

Location: O’Hara Township Building, 325 Fox Chapel Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15238
Dates: July 21 to August 22, 2014

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation will make plans available for a bridge reconstruction project located on Saxonburg Blvd. The plans, detour map and contact information of project officials will be left unmanned in the O’Hara Township Municipal Building and will be available for the public from Monday, July 21, 2014 to Friday, August 22.

The construction of the new bridge will begin in 2015 and will require a detour until the project is finished. The detour uses SR 1010 (Harts Run Rd) and Pennsylvania Route 8 and is approximately 11 miles long.

Feel free to contact John Zelesnak, PE PennDOT Project Manager (412-250-4282) with any questions regarding this information.

The O’Hara Township Building is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Persons requiring special assistance to review the plans should contact the municipal building.

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And here’s a map of the proposed detour:

At the final ALCOSAN wet weather water management public comment session

I decided to take the time to come out to the final ALCOSAN meeting. O’hara Township is a bit ahead of the curve having implemented ordinances designed to reduce runoff. But the proposed plan is for the entire county land will affect our sewer rates along with everyone else’s. I don’t know about you, but 10-12% annual rate increases over 25 years or more sounds insanely expensive to me. That’s why I’m here: I support encouraging ALCOSAN to reconsider their plan to spend $2 billion on a plan to build pipes and tanks to handle runoff knowing full well that it won’t be enough to fully address the issues. The Pittsburgh Clean Rivers Coalition has been working with municipalities and community organizations willing to create and implement green solutions that are less expensive and more likely to benefit communities and resolve he issues over the long run. Green solutions prevent water from getting into the system in the first place, reducing the physical infrastructure needed to process excess flows.

County Exec Fitzgerald at a community meeting in Oakland last night committed in front of an audience of 1000 to insisting that ALCOSAN include green solutions in their plan that will reduce flows rather than just controlling them. There are more than 200 people

Pittsburgh Clean Rivers coalition gathering for the ALCOSAN Pittsburgh Clean Rivers coalition gathering for the ALCOSAN

50 organizations here right now making it clear to the ALCOSAN board that they support this strategy. I hope we can all find a way to invest appropriately in a combined green/grey solution that satisfies  the consent decree requirements and does not impose unreasonable costs on citizens for clean water.

A slight divergence from Township business

I’m traveling far from home this month, but wares to share the letter I just wrote to Jim Ferli and Randy Vulakovich in hopes that some of you will be similarly inspired:

Dear Mr. Vulakovich:

I think the subject of this note makes it clear, but I hope you’ll  excuse me for reiterating for emphasis: please do not vote in favor of HB 1950. Yes, jobs are important, but this bill puts jobs and money ahead of the physical welfare of residents. This bill disenfranchises residents in the most rudimentary way: it takes away the ability of people who live in a particular area with specific geographical and sociological characteristics to control the quality of life of their community. I can’t imagine why you (or any legislator) would want to put his constituents in that position. Without control over quality of life issues, there really is no point to an improved economy since we would be unable to enjoy it.

To say that the world is watching how Pennsylvania handles this issue is no exaggeration. I am currently visiting Australia, where similar issues have arisen surrounding the extraction of coal gas from geological formations. Australians are keenly interested in what is happening in Pennsylvania, and looking to learn both from our successes and our mistakes.

“Economic efficiency” for corporations is no reason to strip local residents of their ability to regulate the quality of life in their communities.  We can live without gas drilling being regulated by State fiat in our communities, but if this bill passes, I fear that many of us will lose our reason for living in the places we have chosen. I certainly hope that you will be part of a majority that sets an example for the world by placing the security of your constituents’ quality of life as your top priority no matter how loud the deceptive siren call for economic activity.

Cindy Harris

Why I’m (still) showing up

The last month or so has been busy for me.  Holidays, projects, rehearsals, clients, weather that wouldn’t cooperate with my plans to winterize the camper or put the garden to bed, and a 92 year old friend who needed help moving to assisted living filled my days and evenings. So on the nights when my calendar read “Township meeting,” I was tempted to either do something else (and there’s ALWAYS something else), or to just not show up.  After all, the agenda looks dull, I never seem to be getting anywhere voicing my concerns over Council’s tendency to spend time on things like public hearings about ordinances related to digging holes in our backyards or asking endless questions revolving around a simple proposal to enclose an existing patio at Giant Eagle’s RIDC facility rather providing opportunities for two-way communication with residents regarding the Guyasuta VFD.  And when the Council once again seemed to take their ongoing “review” of the Township’s Long Range Comprehensive Plan with little seriousness at the October 11 meeting, I really was ready to decide that my premise of continuing to show up until someone besides myself started to pay attention was really not worth the trouble.

But I showed up again for the November 1 meeting.  As usual, a lot of time was spent on things that probably could have been dispatched more quickly.  The pleasant surprise was that I wasn’t one of only two residents in attendance:  a group of ten or so Mews residents were present.  They were interested in answers about the response to back-to-back fire calls October 29 and 30 in the absence of Guyasuta VFD.  A lively and useful discussion ensued, and everyone’s concerns were respectfully and completely addressed.

What happened next was what was even more interesting.  Having concluded the fire safety discussion, Council President Bob Smith joked that the Mews residents could leave, or maybe they’d like to stay for the discussion about sewers.  They were about to leave when I commented that they might like to stay for the discussion about the proposed Long Range Comprehensive Plan.  “Oh, that’s next week — we’ll be here!” they said.  “Actually, it’s on the agenda THIS week too — just as it has been for every workshop since May,” I said.  They stayed…all the way to the very last item on the agenda, which is where these “review” sessions have been landing on the agenda.

I love it when a larger group of residents attends a meeting: the Council changes its whole demeanor, taking the time to really engage with concerns of residents. So instead of a pretend discussion of the Plan, what we heard was much more interesting.  First, the 2010 census data has not yet been integrated into the proposed Plan.  All of the analysis and commentary and questions so far have been based on a proposed Plan that is based on 2000 census data.  Township Manager Julie Jakubec advised that the revised data and a few other items will be inserted into the proposed Plan during the week and updated pages provided to the Council.  I asked who would be reviewing the new data and revising the analysis.  Julie replied that the Township’s consultant had advised that such a review was not needed.  Am I the only one in the world who thinks that it’s a little bit crazy not to ask the Planning Commission to review the revised proposed Plan and update the analysis as necessary?  Yikes! I didn’t even think to ask how the public was going to be able to review the revised proposed Plan before the public hearing, but I probably should have. And it’s probably a violation of some statute or other to hold a public hearing without providing the public with time to review the actual Plan being discussed.

But that wasn’t all.  The discussion continued with questions about the process for approving the proposed Plan.  Julie’s calendar called for a public hearing before the Council’s next regular meeting followed by a “first reading” vote at that meeting.  I probably don’t have to say that I was ready to speak in opposition to that suggestion, but for once I didn’t have to.  Bart Bodkin decided to speak up to say that he wasn’t comfortable with some aspects of the proposed Plan and that if it was going to act as a template for the next ten years of ordinances in the Township, he wasn’t ready to vote on it.  He also asked whether the proposed Plan could be modified after the hearing and a first reading vote.  Of course it CAN be modified after a hearing…but not after a first reading unless the Council goes back and has a second public hearing and re-votes on the first reading.  Believe it or not, it took the Council and Township Manager almost ten minutes of confused discussion on this before I finally piped up to point out that they could hold a public hearing next week, but delay the first reading until next month or even later if necessary.  That’s what they finally decided to do.

Now about that public hearing. I’m sure you’re all wondering when it’s going to take place so that you can be sure to be there to direct your Council regarding the long-range issues they SHOULD have considered over the last six months in the time they spent paging through a boilerplate report constructed by a professional consultant and pretending to discuss it. Next Tuesday, November 8, is Election Day:  there will be no Council Meeting because the Township office is a polling place.  So the Council has rescheduled the regular Tuesday meeting to Wednesday, November 9.  The public hearing for the proposed Long Range Comprehensive Plan will be first on the agenda at 7pm.  I know the folks from The Mews are going to be there to express their thoughts on potential rezoning of the Margery Drive area: they are concerned that rezoning to “mixed use” (an undefined term) will mean significantly increased traffic, noise, pollution, and general disruption of their community, not to mention a degradation of their property values.  That’s fairly ironic, actually, as one of the reasons cited in the proposed Plan for re-zoning that area is to ensure that certain other residential properties have their values increased. I don’t recall that I’ve ever received a promise from the Township or anyone else that the value of my home would always go up, so I find it rather curious that the Planning Commission would assume that it’s the Township’s job to attempt to ensure that for particular properties.

But Mews residents are not the only ones affected by something that is included in (or left out of) the proposed Long Range Comprehensive Plan.  There’s a proposal to significantly revise the Fox Chapel Rd/Freeport Rd/Old Freeport Rd intersection included in the Plan.  There is no discussion at all of real long-range issues like how the Township should address creating a robust information infrastructure that will encourage more telecommuting citizens to take up residence in O’Hara rather than somewhere else when the price of gas doubles sometime in the next ten years.  There is only superficial discussion of what it means to be a Township that has only limited land for new development:  once the Saxonburg corridor is built-out, all future development will be re-development.  Howard Hanna recently purchased one large tract of land below Country Club Lane, and it occurs to me to wonder what they have in mind for that potentially difficult-to-build property.

What’s your vision?  What does it mean to be a “sustainable” community?  What kind of information infrastructure should we encourage and how do we go about establishing it?  What should we be doing to ensure that we’ll continue to have robust fire and ambulance services at a reasonable cost into the foreseeable future?  What else can you envision for our Township that’s not included in the proposed Long Range Comprehensive Plan?

And most of all:  do you think it’s appropriate for the Council to approve a Long Range Comprehensive Plan based on census data from 2000 without sending it back to the Planning Commission for re-analysis?  If I had been sitting on Council for the last six months, I would have been advocating that all discussions of the Plan be tabled pending the update to 2010 data and re-analysis of the Plan by the Planning Commission based on the new data.  Council can still choose to do that, but only if some residents from all over the Township show up next Wednesday at 7pm to explain their feelings in no uncertain terms.

Hope to see you there.

Cindy

P.S.  For those who would also like to look at the maps (not posted on the Township web site), they can be found here.

 

Council chooses to change process for approving amendments to ordinances

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At its meeting this evening, O’Hara Township Council adopted an ordinance to remove the Guyasuta Volunteer Fire Department as an emergency service provider to the Township of O’Hara.

As many of you who read this blog are aware, this is the culmination of a discussion that has been going on since June 7, when John Denny introduced a resolution to suspend the Guyasuta VFD for 90 days.  That suspension period expired September 7, and at the Sept 7 meeting, the Council had a first reading of B-50-2011, and ordinance to remove Guyasuta as an emergency provider. As usual text of the ordinance was not available to the public at the meeting.  That text was not posted on the Township web site until Friday, September 10, the same time as the agenda for tonight’s meeting was posted.  And that agenda included a surprising item:  a second reading and adoption vote on the same ordinance.

I say “surprising” because there were three things out of the ordinary about the process.  First, it is our custom in the Township that the second reading of an ordinance occurs at least three weeks after the first reading.  In the two and a half years that I have been attending Council meetings regularly, I cannot recall a situation where a “first reading” occurred at the first meeting of the month and a “second reading and adoption” the following week.  Second, it is our custom in the Township to hold a public hearing on ordinances.  No public meeting was announced or held for B-50-2011.  I noticed this and came to the mic this evening to ask why there was no public hearing. The Township’s lawyer replied that there was no requirement for a public hearing on this ordinance because it was “an amendment to an existing ordinance.”  That may be true, but this was definitely not noted on the agenda nor anywhere else that I’m aware of except in the text of B-50-2011 which (as usual) was not available to residents at the meeting.

In fact the statement that we don’t do public hearings for amendments to ordinances is demonstrably untrue. At the August 9 Council Meeting, there was a public hearing for B-42-2011 “to receive public comments regarding Amendments to Township Grading, Excavating and Fill Ordinance No. 674 of 1978.”  This was clearly a public hearing about amending an existing ordinance, and as it turned out, the ordinance was significantly flawed:  as written it would have required residents to obtain permits if they wished to dig a hole for a bush in their own backyards. It passed anyway, and I was told that the wording was changed, but since it is not available on the Township web site — the link to it comes up “Page not found” as of this writing — I can’t verify that.  But it is clear from this one recent incident that we DO hold public hearings for ordinance amendments even when they’re about digging holes in our backyards, so I cannot understand why we did not hold one for an ordinance that affects the safety of Township residents.

Finally, the text of B-50-2011 was not posted on the web site until Friday, September 10. It is generally the custom of the Township to post proposed ordinances the morning after they are introduced for the first reading.

My conclusion is that the adoption of B-50-2011 was highly irregular at best, and secretive with an intent to avoid public attention at worst.  It is an unfortunate example of the kind of behavior that I’ve been noticing for many years, and writing about here over the last six months.  The Council seems to feel that public input is a messy inconvenience, that the voices of residents are unimportant, and that the Council should be able to execute its agenda without such annoying interference.

You’ll note that I’m not saying here whether I think that Guyasuta VFD should or should not have been removed.  The fact of the matter is that there have been management issues in the VFD that were causing Council and the other VFD’s great concern. The Guyasuta VFD also did a poor job of responding to the Council’s surprising passage of the resolution to suspend them for 90 days.  It wasn’t until last night that the individuals involved took substantive action in the face of the upcoming vote.  Council and Township management also took actions and maintained attitudes that certainly did not help the GVFD move quickly in a direction that could address the problems with the relationship between the Township and the Department.  And tonight Council voted in a way that (despite their words to the contrary) pretty much ensures that the Guyasuta Volunteer Fire Department has responded to its last emergency call.  The argument that this crisis had been fourteen years in the making really holds no water with me:  if problems had already been going on for fourteen years, now that the main source of the problems has been removed (as Council was assured they had been), I can see no reason not to postpone the vote a month and hold a proper public hearing that would discuss the issues out where residents could understand them clearly.

In any case, no matter what the “rightness” of the Council’s position on this particular issue, there is no excuse for changing the process of review and public hearing simply because it seems expedient. Every ordinance needs to be treated exactly the same way, even if the law permits otherwise.  This enters into the realm of “ethical decision making” in my book:  to paraphrase Emerson, “a foolish consistency” may be “the hobgoblin of little minds,” but a lack of consistency may be the first visible evidence of an organization that is ethically challenged.

My suggestion would be that anyone who agrees should be showing up regularly at Council sessions to listen to the discussion, become familiar with the issues, and ultimately have a positive impact on our community.  The calendar’s over there to the right of this posting, so feel free to subscribe to it and show up at least once a month.

There was more at this meeting, but I’ll cover it in a second posting tomorrow.

Fall Beginnings

Well, the summer is over and it’s time to leave the afternoon swim behind and return to our regular schedule of helping the O’Hara Township Council do a really excellent job of governing.  If you’re a resident, come on out to experience “one of the best kept secrets” (that’s a quote from a first-time attendee last month!) in our area when you join me at the O’Hara Township Council Workshop on Tuesday evening September 6 starting at 7pm.  The full agenda is not available as of this writing (but check the link again on Monday if you’re interested).

One thing I do know:  the Township Council is currently discussing a proposed “Long Range Comprehensive Plan” which will determine zoning, environmental, transportation, parks development, and many other important directions for the Township over the next decade.  Particular proposals for re-zoning are already being advanced, discussion of many other opportunities are completely absent from the proposed plan. Check some of the previous postings in this blog for more details.  It’s certain that the Plan will only be improved before approval by the Township Council if residents who care get informed and then come out to listen to the discussion and voice their opinions.  And it needs lots of improvement, particularly in the areas of sustainability and technology infrastructure:  neither of these is mentioned in the current version, and there are many of us who would love to see those things addressed before approval. If we accept the “Oh, we can approve this Plan and modify it later” explanation, I’m pretty sure it’s never going to happen.  After all, it took more than ten years just to get this Plan developed, and they managed to use 2000 census data at that.  The Township’s “Strategic Plan” is apparently even older and it’s not even on the agenda….

There should also be some discussion of the status of the Guyasuta VFD at Tuesday’s meeting since the deadline for response from the VFD to the Township regarding reorganization is coming up in early September.

So read the Executive Summary of the proposed Long Range Comprehensive Plan, take a look at chapters 5 and 6 in the full plan (that’s what they said in July they’ll be discussing at this meeting), and come on out to see what’s going on in your Township.  I promise you won’t be bored!

O’Hara Township Council Meeting and Workshop 7/12/2011

After last week’s surprise, I was prepared to be disappointed when a crowd of residents interested in understanding more about the Township’s proposed Long Range Comprehensive Plan did not materialize.  But I wasn’t disappointed at all:  a dozen residents were there right from the start, and stayed through a relatively slow regular Council meeting so that they could participate in the discussion about the proposed Plan.  One of them commented to me in the parking lot as we were coming in that she was back because she had realized the previous week that these meetings were one of the “best kept secrets” for interesting things to do in O’Hara Township.  I definitely couldn’t disagree 🙂

As you’ll see from the agenda, there was some approval of minutes, opening of a bid, and reviews of reports that (as usual) the residents in attendance were left to wonder about since copies were not available for review.  There was a brief discussion of the status of easement agreements for the Saxonburg sewer project (they are almost ready to go out to residents), and in the course of that discussion we learned that the Township provides free notary services to all residents for everything except auto title transfers.  Just out of curiosity I did a quick search of the Township web site to see if I could have found this out without attending this particular Council meeting, but it doesn’t seem to be listed anywhere.

There was nothing on the agenda about the status of discussions with the Guyasuta Volunteer Fire Department, so I asked for an update.  The Township is still waiting for the Department to reorganize and approach the Council with a plan, so for now they are not operating.  There is a meeting of the Fire Funding and Safety Subcommittee on July 19 at 6pm, so if you are in the district formerly covered by Guyasuta and would like a more detailed update, you should attend that meeting.

The primary business during the Council Workshop was discussion of chapters 4 and 5 of the proposed Long Range Comprehensive Plan. Judy Spray, chair of the Planning Commission, was in attendance to answer questions about the proposed Plan. Betty Elias, a resident of The Mews, spoke eloquently, asking Council members to understand clearly the potential downside of a Plan that recommends rezoning in the Margery Drive area.  As the discussion continued, it became clear that no one really knew how “transitional zoning” was defined.  Judy Spray mentioned that it was a concept that had been successful elsewhere, but I realized later in the meeting that she meant “in places outside of O’Hara Township” since we have no “transitional zones” in the current O’Hara ordinance.

I took an opportunity to challenge the Council, asking why they were spending time discussing a Plan that they all agree is based on outdated data:  the most current census data in the Plan is from 2000, and although some nice statistical work was done to project forward to 2010, projections are only that, and without real data, we’re simply guessing when we draw conclusions.  As promised Julie had checked with the Plan consultant, and was informed that the 2010 data will be available in 90 days or so, at which time the proposed plan could be updated.  I was a little frustrated with the willingness of the Council to spend time and energy on an exercise that they were most likely going to have to repeat when the new data was available, and in response it was pointed out that this proposed Plan was really only being done to satisfy a State requirement.

At that point I suggested that if this was true, then the Township had already spent far too much time and money on the project and they ought to stop wasting time, approve the Plan as is, and move on to more important business.  The Council was a little taken aback by this (as they should have been).  My point, of course, is that developing a Plan like this should not be a pro forma exercise completed simply to satisfy a requirement. In our case, it’s a real opportunity to do some strategic thinking about what our community might look like in 10 or 20 years.  For instance, Sustainable Pittsburgh offers an intriguing “Rapid Assessment” designed to trigger thinking about issues of sustainability.  Rather than spending time questioning exactly which plots available for development in the Saxonburg corridor are referred to in the proposed Plan, why not spend time discussing the questions in Sustainable Pittsburgh’s assessment during these workshop meetings?  Take that one step further and encourage as many Township residents as possible to go through the Rapid Assessment and look at the results generated by the community.  My husband and I completed the Rapid Assessment ourselves and found ourselves asking questions like “Is it really desirable to eliminate affordable residential units by rezoning the Margery Drive area? Rather than assuming that we should rezone because increased traffic is making it less desirable as a residential area, what policies could we put in place to reduce traffic given the continuing development of multi-family housing in the Fox Chapel Road/Freeport Road area?” It also occurred to us to ask “If the price of gasoline increases to $8 per gallon in the next five years, what policies should we be putting in place to encourage the development of a robust information infrastructure that will allow us to continue to attract a highly educated/high income population that may be more interested in working from home than commuting?” Or “What commercial enterprises could we encourage in the Township (especially along the Freeport Road corridor) that would reduce traffic as we look towards redevelopment rather than new development?”

The Council was quick to inform me that my questions were actually part of the Township’s “Strategic Plan.”  And the response to my question about the age of THAT plan was a sheepish admission that it was already ten years old.  All I can say is that if you’d like to see your Township Council stop wasting its time on pro forma planning exercises that do little more than employ a consultant to help them look in the rear view mirror and start having some real discussions about the future of our community, it would be a good thing to read the proposed Plan and make a commitment to attend Township Council Workshop meetings where the Plan will be discussed.  The Council will take a break in August, with meetings currently on the calendar likely to be cancelled unless there is business that requires a Council vote.  So put September 6 on your calendar if you’d like to help the Council be a bit more responsive to your concerns.  There’s an election coming up in November and you are going to have the opportunity to choose two “at large” Council members, so now would be a good time to come out and evaluate your candidates.

Along these lines, I’ve been asked by the residents of The Mews to facilitate an information session on how the Township Council process works with specific reference to the Long Range Comprehensive Plan and how it may affect future zoning changes.  That session will take place Tuesday, July 19 at 11am in the party room at the Fox Chapel Mews Condominium II at 302 Fox Chapel Road.  Come on down if you’re interested in hearing more about what this is all about and how any resident can participate respectfully in the process and ensure that their concerns are heard.

Township Council Workshop 7/5/2011

July 5, 2011 Council workshopTonight’s Council workshop was definitely one of the most remarkable meetings I’ve attended since I started showing up on a regular basis in 2009.  On a nice summer evening, I am not surprised to see the parking lot filled with cars — there’s usually a Little League game at the park, and many people use the Township lot when the park lot fills up.  But I was completely surprised to walk into the Council chamber and notice that the room was filled:  there were over 20 faces that I’d never seen there before!  The agenda wasn’t particularly remarkable, so I couldn’t imagine why they were there…unless….

Yes, it WAS something I’d said.  Richard Sullivan, the president of the Mews II Homeowners Association had contacted me last week to ask what I knew about discussions of zoning changes on Council and wondering whether it would be a good idea to encourage Mews residents to attend meetings.  I’d explained that the Council was reviewing the proposed Long Range Comprehensive Plan during Council workshops, and that it would be a great idea for anyone interested in how that plan might affect zoning to show up on a regular basis starting right now.  So as I stood at the door looking around in surprise, it was Dr. Sullivan who jumped up to introduce himself, as did several others — I counted 22 in all!  And John Denny called out with amusement “I think they’re all here for you, Cindy.”

Of course they weren’t all there for me:  they were there because they were interested in finding out how the proposed Long Range Comprehensive Plan would affect zoning around the Mews, and wanted a voice in the process of finalizing the Plan.  Some of them had read the Executive Summary of the Plan that I pointed to in May and realized that one recommendation included in the current draft referenced rezoning in the Margery Drive area.  So they were interested and concerned…and they came out to make sure they would have complete information on what was being suggested and be able to voice their own opinions about what the Plan should say about that rezoning.

So a “boring” meeting about a document that the Township creates every ten years mostly because the Pennsylvania Municipal Code requires it turned into a lively exchange of ideas and opinions.  Everyone was clear, everyone was respectful, and some even verged on visionary.  Residents of the Mews made it clear that they were not in favor even of a “transitional” zoning that would permit professional offices in the existing houses:  they see it as an opening to more “transitions” that would eventually result in the whole area becoming commercial.  Council members empathized, and they are also concerned about related issues regarding traffic at the entrances and exits to Route 28 as well as the Freeport Road/Fox Chapel Road intersection.  I think no one is yet ready to propose a particular plan, but the discussion that took place just on this issue was an excellent start to the process of reviewing the entire Long Range Strategic Plan that will take place over the next four to six months.

And that was just the discussion that took place during the “Citizens Concerns” portion of the meeting!  During the time actually budgeted for discussion of the Plan, some very interesting comments were made by Council members.  John Denny kicked it off by noting that he was disappointed not to be able to identify a real vision of where the Township was headed.  He’s interested in identifying a small number of key points that would give residents an engaging view of where the Township is going over the next ten years, and using those points to create a summary brochure that could be distributed to Township residents.  He was also surprised to note that the idea of creating a “sustainable community” was not really included in the Plan.

Bart Bodkin noted that the Plan was already out of date:  it was first passed along from the consultant to the Planning Commission a year ago, and since then the 2010 census data has become available while the Plan still relies on 2000 census data to substantiate its conclusions.

Bob Smith noted that the Plan seems not so different than the last one, thought it was very unexciting to read, and wondered whether that was because it was an exercise that was required rather than one entered into as an opportunity to think creatively about our community.

John Denny also mentioned that he found the traffic analysis very interesting, especially the data that reflected changing patterns in the RIDC Park area as the mix of businesses in the Park changes from a few large to many smaller.  Since RIDC Park has a Pittsburgh address, it’s become attractive to a large number of smaller businesses that see such an address as an asset, and that has introduced challenges that were not envisioned when the Park was first designed.

Julie Jakubec explained to Council members and residents that the Long Range Strategic Plan points to things that we should look at, but that the Plan itself has no force in law. In order for the Plan to take effect, Council will have to vote on ordinances.  Specific zoning recommendations will come from discussion of the Plan recommendations.

Next week the Council will continue its review of the proposed Long Range Comprehensive Plan.  Judith Spray, the chair of the Planning Commission, will be in attendance to give her insight and answer questions.  The Council agreed to continue with a chapter-by-chapter review beginning with Chapters 4 (Housing and Households) and 5 (Socio-economic Profile)  since the first three chapters are a review of past history of the Township and previous planning efforts.  Julie will be contacting the consultant to request that the Plan be updated with 2010 census figures.  And the entire Plan is now available for review on the Township web site with the exception of the maps, as they were deemed to be “too large” to download.  I don’t think they’re “too large” though, at least not broken down into several files as I have done, so if you want to download them, I’ve made them available here.

In other news from the meeting, there was a bit of followup on something that I was remiss in reporting from last month’s meetings.  At the June 7 Council Workshop, John Denny opened the meeting by introducing a resolution to withdraw funding from the Guyasuta Volunteer Fire Department, effectively decertifying it and preventing it from taking calls.  John has been part of the Fire and Public Safety committee, working with all of the departments to ensure proper fire coverage for all residents.  Part of that discussion included changes to “run cards” that determine which departments are called first for assistance based on the address of the affected property.  Certain changes to the run cards for Guyasuta were a condition for receiving Township funding, and John had discovered that despite assurances to the contrary, changes that should have been made more than a year ago had not yet been made.  He believes that this potentially jeopardizes the lives of children (since FCAHS was part of the affected area) and other residents.  He moved to suspend funding until there was a leadership change, the changes were made in the run cards, and a coordinator was identified to work with the neighboring fire districts.  The motion was approved unanimously.

Former Council member Dempsey Bruce is a member of one of the other fire companies and happened to be sitting next to me, so during the break taken immediately after the vote, I asked him to explain what this was all about. He told me that the fire chief for each department was responsible for telling Allegheny County 911 dispatch the order in which neighboring fire departments should be called when assistance is required.  The Chief at Guyasuta was in the habit of calling Oakmont or other non-O’Hara departments before calling Fox Chapel, Parkview or Pleasant Valley. This caused significant response delays to residents and businesses, so the Council had requested the “run sheets” to be updated.  When John discovered that they had not been, he informed the Council, and the Council voted to suspend funding as an indication of its loss of confidence in Guyasuta leadership. During the suspension neighboring companies from Blawnox, Aspinwall, Fox Chapel and Sharpsburg are covering Guyasuta’s territory.  A complete press release from the Township is available here.

At the June 14 Council Meeting, Julie updated Council on the Guyasuta situation.  Fire call zones and run codes had been immediately re-worked with various fire departments in the area.  O’Hara’s other fire departments have repaired and learned to operate Guyasuta’s aerial truck, and calls in Guyasuta’s area have been effectively handled by other departments.  A consulting firm, Matrix Inc. had been asked to assist with the Guyasuta company reorganization at a fee of $175 per hour.  In order for Matrix to get involved, the cooperation of the Guyasuta company would be required.  Julie reported that to date no request for such assistance has been received.

Julie also indicated that she was moving forward on forming a group of experienced firefighters from O’Hara and surrounding areas to assist Guyasuta with the reorganization. A member of the Guyasuta department happened to be sitting next to me, so I asked him whether the Company wanted such assistance.  He hesitated and then told me he could not comment, so I stood up to ask the Council that question and was informed that there had been no request from Guyasuta for such assistance.

Turned out that I had hit the nail on the head with that question: the next speaker was a lawyer for Guyasuta Volunteer Fire Department.  He reminded Council that the Company was a private not for profit organization that has assisted the community for sixty years, responding to 80% of the Township’s calls.  No prior complaints had been received and the department has been held up as an example at various forums.  The Department and its members dispute Council statements and actions, and feel that at least it would have been courteous to give some notice in writing.  He also mentioned that the Guyasuta  chief had been arrested for assault and now was suspended and no longer participating in fire company activities.  The lawyer claimed that run cards had been submitted as far back as last August and that Allegheny County 911 had been using them. He pointed out that in any case, the Township may have the right to withdraw funding, but since the Department is a private organization, the Township does not have the right to dictate leadership or organization.  The Department would be willing to discuss return to service on reasonable terms.  Council member Bart Bodkin proposed an immediate meeting, and Julie indicated that that such a meeting could happen on June 16.

An update on this situation at the July 5 workshop indicated that there was still no significant communication between the Township and the Guyasuta Department.  Council member Brian Kozera mentioned that there had apparently been some inappropriate and harassing remarks aimed at Julie and police chief Jim Farringer posted on the Guyasuta web site, but that they had been quickly removed.  Bob Smith reiterated that the Township would be happy to assist Guyasuta with a reorganization if the members were amenable, and also commented that there had been no negative feedback from the public to date.

Tonight’s Council workshop concluded with a comment from Council member Mark Rothert that the vegetation along Saxonburg needs to be trimmed.  Julie pointed out that this is a State maintained road, and that if O’Hara just “takes care of it” then the State will assume that it will always be “taken care of” rather than maintaining it as they should. She will call the DOT and mention that this is a “potentially hazardous situation” and see if she can get them to deal with the problem immediately.

That’s all for this week. Thanks again to those from The Mews who came out in force to participate.  I think many were surprised to find that the process and the discussion were far more interesting than they imagined, and I hope that many will continue to come out to participate in the review of the Long Range Comprehensive Plan and begin to understand a little more about how our government works.  Several mentioned that it might be good to have some informal sessions where citizens can review the chapters of the Plan that will be discussed by Council at each meeting so that we can come to the meetings prepared to contribute intelligently to the process.  If we get something going on that, I’ll let you know here and encourage you to bring friends.  Or just show up at the Council meeting next week and be as pleasantly surprised by the process as those who came tonight were.  I’ll look forward to seeing you next Tuesday at 7pm!

 

Township Council Workshop 6/7/2011

In addition to an Eagle Scout award, tonight’s Township Council meeting agenda features a discussion on a very hot topic: Township fire services. For those of you who haven’t been following meetings, our fire services are currently provided by three volunteer fire companies. As you might imagine, this makes for some interesting discussions about funding and equipment and training and recruiting in the Township. I’d encourage everyone to come out and listen to tonight’s discussion, but if you can’t make it I’ll be reporting on it later in the week.

We’ll also be getting an update on the Saxonburg Sewer Project, and one in what I hope will be a series of review of portions of the proposed Long Range Comprehensive Plan for the Township that will be taking place over the next several months.

There will also be discussion of two shorter-range issues that may affect residents more immediately. The first is a proposal to impose a fee for “temporary storage structures” on residents’ properties. Seems like that could be a bit broad, so I’ll be interested to hear why our Township Engineer believes that this is something we need to do.

We’ll also be hearing about changes to park rules and regulations that have been proposed by the Township Park and Recreation Committee. The last time the Council discussed rules for the park we were entertained by a detailed examination of the merits of pig-walking in parks, so perhaps tonight’s discussion will be equally riveting.

I also want to take a moment to say “thank you” to those who supported my candidacy in the May primary.  I did not win a spot on the Republican ballot, but I was told unofficially today that I DID win a spot as a write-in candidate on the Democratic ballot.  Assuming those results hold up, I’ll be firing up a fall campaign, and will look forward to getting out to meet many of you.

Hope to see you at a Township Council meeting real soon!  Be sure to say “hi” when you see me — I’ll be the one taking notes and asking questions 🙂

Cindy