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Updated 20 hours ago
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto on Wednesday appealed to companies with market-rate residential developments in East Liberty to provide housing for about 20 remaining Penn Plaza apartment complex residents who soon will be displaced.
Meanwhile, the city is preparing to sue the owners of Penn Plaza to force compliance with a written agreement providing such things as relocation subsidies to residents and a guarantee of "safe and healthy conditions" until the residents are forced to meet a March 31 deadline for moving out.
"The solicitor is finalizing a complaint, which we will file (Wednesday) and expect to be in court as soon as (Thursday), holding the owners of Penn Plaza accountable for the promises that they made," said Kevin Acklin, Peduto's chief of staff.
Pennley Park South, which owns Penn Plaza, is in the process of demolishing the two-building complex to make way for a $150 million mixed development.
Downtown attorney Jonathan Kamin, who represents Pennley Park, said the company has complied with all sections of the agreement.
"We have worked very hard and spent over a million dollars to remain in compliance with that (agreement)," Kamin said. "We have taken those obligations seriously and will continue to do so, and we are not aware of any violations at the property."
Acklin said the city believes the company has started initial demolition work that is putting residents at risk in violation of the agreement. Residents have complained about possible exposure to asbestos and malfunctioning furnaces.
Pennley Park and the city have been battling since January, when the Pittsburgh Planning Commission unanimously rejected the company's plans for a mixed development. The company has demolished one of the two rent-controlled buildings in the Penn Avenue complex and estimates the new development, which includes a Whole Foods grocery, offices and about 400 apartments, will cost up to $150 million.
Kamin said city and Allegheny County Health Department inspectors have visited Penn Plaza and found no violations. In a letter to the city, he accused unidentified "outside groups" of manipulating residents to file complaints.
Peduto spokeswoman Katie O'Malley said the city Law Department is reviewing inspection reports and determining whether violations exist. Health Department spokeswoman Melissa Wade confirmed that inspectors visited the site "multiple times" and found no violations.
The mayor asked developers to offer the remaining residents vacant apartments in their buildings at rates they can afford. Market-rate rents in East Liberty can be as high as $3,000 per month.
Letters went out Wednesday to a dozen companies, both private and nonprofit, including Mosites Co., KBK Enterprises, Trek Development, Action Housing and Walnut Capital. The companies hadn't immediately responded, Peduto said.
"We have found housing for almost 90 percent of the people who live there," Peduto said, noting that some East Liberty developers received public subsidies for their projects. "If each of the developers in the East Liberty area just help a little bit, we'll be able to get it down to zero."
Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-765-2312 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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