Larimer revitalization plan unveiled

The Larimer Consensus Group presented an updated version on revitalizing Pittsburgh’s Lari­mer neighborhood recently called the Larimer Vision Plan, during a meeting at the Kingsley Center for community stakeholders. The LCG includes Kingsley, ELCC, the Omega Men, East Liberty Development Inc. and members of Larimer’s faith-based community.

NEW VISION—Larimer Consensus Group member and Kinsgley Association Executive Director Malik Bankston highlights part of the Green Sustainable development plan for Larimer. (Photo by Erin Perry)

Proposals and counter-proposals on revitalizing Pittsburgh’s Larimer neighborhood have been discussed since Ora Lee Carroll’s East Liberty Concerned Citizens Corp. first put out the original Larimer Plan for development in 1998.

“It’s a very big deal in that it’s a big step forward in terms of a consensus, community view,” said Kingsley Executive Director Malik Bankston. “This is not being driven from the top down.”

The Vision Plan resulted from more than a year of community planning work by the LCG, Strada Architecture, LLC; Real Estate Services; Michael Baker Corporation; and Community Technical Assistance Center, and calls for remaking Larimer into a “sustainable, green” community.

Bankston said he was personally inspired to revisit plans for Larimer as he watched a 2007 news report of a tornado that obliterated Greensburg, Kan.

“I saw the devastation, and was impressed they wanted to rebuild at all,” he said. “But when they decided to rebuild as a green community, that’s when I thought, if they could do it, why couldn’t we do it to a neighborhood devastated by neglect.”

The devastation to which he referred is presented in the plan with maps noting the number and distribution of vacant lots and condemned, tax-delinquent or abandoned buildings. But that also creates an opportunity to assemble large parcels for development, and to reconnect the neighborhood to East Liberty and the commercial and employment opportunities it is building.

“We have to build off of the strong edges. For housing, that means taking advantage of the current 71 townhomes McCormack Barron is building along East Liberty Boulevard,” he said. “It also means setting up new green, light industrial space along Frankstown and Hamilton Avenues where we already have a artisan furniture maker and a dance studio.”

Ultimately, the vision Plan calls for centralizing new energy efficient housing, including mixed-income rental and for-sale properties between Larimer Avenue and Lincoln Avenue. From north of Larimer Avenue to Negley Run Boulevard and along Washington Boulevard, the plan calls for a massive new green space, Larimer Park, which would also include sports fields.

A compact retail center would occupy the lower end of Lincoln Avenue and a large urban farm at the far end of Paulsen Avenue would serve to solidify the neighborhood’s reputation as a green community.

Housing development would initially include 50 to 60, single-family homes and perhaps 10 accessible carriage homes for seniors. The plan also calls for 400 units of mixed-income rental properties, some of which will replace the Pittsburgh Housing Authority’s 129 East Liberty Gardens units.

In addition to the HACP being an active partner and developer, the project has the support of state and local politicians. Both City Councilman Rev. Rickey Burgess and state Rep. Joe Preston spoke in favor of the plan at the Jan. 26 presentation, and state Sen. Jim Ferlo has been instrumental in funding green development projects in several Black communities including Homewood and the Hill District.

“This has been a long process and it’s ongoing,” said Preston. “You’re going to see real involvement, not one project here, one there, but people coming together with a plan rather than politicians telling them what’s happening.”

Carroll, who also spoke at the meeting, said she thinks the politicians and the authorities are driving the project and that residents, especially seniors are not being considered first. She also said the “green development” is taking priority over building homes and businesses.

“I don’t like all the green space instead of homes and businesses. It’s a bunch of pretty pictures and planting,” she said. “And there’s no relocation plan for citizens that want to stay, that should be done first.”

Bankston said, while the details haven’t been worked out, there is a specific “house for a house” provision in the plan.

“One of the core organizing principles is a commitment that we will enable homeowners who want to stay there to leverage their equity and acquire a replacement home,” he said. “These folks who’ve stuck it out, and should benefit. So, as the neighborhood’s fortunes turn, so do theirs.”

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