The 178 acres called Hazelwood Green create both promise and anxiety for its neighbors.
The city bills Hazelwood Green as the largest “redevelopment opportunity” in Pittsburgh; it could hold roughly 135 football fields. It spans 1.2 riverfront miles off of Second Avenue and makes up about 18 percent of the Hazelwood neighborhood.
For a community to have such a vast expanse of land suitable for development is a rarity — and an opportunity that many residents don’t want to see squandered.
“I think this could be the last opportunity that we get to do development differently than it has been done in the past in so many other communities,” said Tim Smith, executive director at Center of Life, a nonprofit that offers programs for youth and families in Hazelwood.
Plans for Hazelwood Green have been evolving since a coalition of Pittsburgh foundations purchased the land in 2002. It’s commonly envisioned as a home for cutting-edge technology and innovation. Most recently, rumors abound that the site could be included in Pittsburgh’s bid to attract Amazon, as the corporate giant seeks a location for its second headquarters.
The plans more definitively include Carnegie Mellon University’s Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing Institute, which will be Hazelwood Green’s first anchor tenant in the former Mill 19 site, a historic steel mill. The plans also call for open spaces, businesses and 3,600 housing units with views of the Monongahela River and, possibly from the highest floors, a sight line to the field where the Pittsburgh Steelers train. Depending on who fills those units, the population of Hazelwood could possibly double. Roughly 5,000 people currently call Hazelwood home.
A new development plan for Hazelwood Green is in the works and will be likely presented to city planning for approval in late March or early April. One of the earliest projects residents may see there is a public gathering space called the Plaza. A design team is expected to be hired by spring 2018; construction of the Plaza is set to begin by the end of the year, with completion sometime in 2019.
With so many moving parts and interests, many residents are bracing for the change Hazelwood Green will bring to the neighborhood. But they want to be sure that whatever changes do come benefit Hazelwood as a whole.
And that means residents must stay vigilant, said the Rev. Michael Murray Sr., who has spent 53 of his 63 years living in Hazelwood.
“We’re fighting for the community, but also for the families who have lived here for years. We want to see the best life afforded to us.”
To ensure the best outcome, many residents are emphasizing the need to speak up.
“We’re calling for accountability,” said Dylan Rooke, a 31-year-old who bought his house in Hazelwood six years ago.
Many residents say they felt included in the Hazelwood Green planning process until conversations about the Amazon bid entered the picture.
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Pittsburgh and Allegheny County leaders have refused to reveal the details of the Amazon proposal, like what sites and incentives they’ve offered the company.
But it seems likely that Hazelwood Green, given its size, location and plans for sustainable development, would be part of the conversation. While the rest of the city is speculating, Hazelwood residents are expressing a deeper level of frustration with the secretive nature of the deal-making.
Smith said city and county leaders are making the assumption that Amazon HQ2 will be good for the region.
“But the question is, how good will it be for this local community?” he said. “That’s not clear to me. I don’t make those assumptions.”
Smith serves as chair of the Greater Hazelwood Community Collaborative, an organization of businesses, nonprofits and churches with the goal of ensuring redevelopment is in the best interest of the neighborhood.
Jourdan Hicks is 27. She grew up in Hazelwood and continues to call it home. Her family’s connection to the neighborhood goes a long way back — her great grandparents relocated from Alabama to Hazelwood in the early 1930s. Hazelwood’s population shrank by nearly 60 percent between 1960 and 2000. The community, Hicks said, is resilient.
But process is important. Not including the community in the plans for the Amazon bid strikes many residents as disrespectful. It can — and is — hurting the relationship between city leaders and the people they are meant to serve.
“How can you say Hazelwood isn’t ready to see it? Or Hazelwood isn’t in a position to know what’s going on? That’s literally like operating on someone and saying, ‘Oh, we’ll just let them know later once we patch everything up,’” Hicks said.
Months of discussions surrounding Amazon with no answers have left residents feeling “not so great,” said Sonya Tilghman, executive director of the Hazelwood Initiative, a community development corporation. Organizations in the community, she said, should be in the know so they can answer questions residents have and even work as a go-between to ensure questions are heard.
“I just feel like, it should have been a little more transparent,” she said. “What’s the right balance? I don’t know, but we’re feeling like this probably isn’t it.”
Councilman Corey O’Connor, who represents Hazelwood, said he’s already met with a small group of residents and community leaders to gather their concerns about new development and the potential of Amazon.
“I think they just want to be given the opportunity to hear that that’s one of the sites,” O’Connor said, adding he also doesn’t know what’s in the bid.
O’Connor said his office is researching other areas that house large corporations to see the ripple effects big business has had on neighborhoods and how negative consequences can be avoided.
“If we’re ahead of the curve, whether Amazon comes or not, that’s really going to be beneficial to Hazelwood, and I think that’s where we’re at right now,” he said.
O’Connor and other city officials have stressed that if Amazon chooses Pittsburgh, there would still be a public process regarding the promises made in the bid.
Timothy McNulty, spokesman for Mayor Bill Peduto, said in a statement: “In the bigger picture, the Peduto administration shares the same concerns as the Hazelwood community regarding speculative investment.”
Pittsburgh’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure has held 11 public meetings in and around Hazelwood since mid-November on the Mon-Oakland Mobility project, McNulty said. Based on public input, numerous changes were agreed upon, including that the design should serve the existing Hazelwood community, not solely Hazelwood Green.
“We look forward to working with residents, the Hazelwood Initiative, City Planning, URA, and the Land Bank on ways to support community-driven development plans to protect and provide opportunities for existing residents and support a diverse, mixed-income neighborhood,” McNulty wrote.
A community plans in the dark
Questions surrounding the development of Hazelwood Green are adding urgency to a community planning process intended to shape the look and feel of Hazelwood for generations to come.
Work began on a neighborhood plan for the Greater Hazelwood area (which includes Glen Hazel) in mid-2017. Titled “Greater Hazelwood: Our Hands. Our Plan,” it is being coordinated by Pittsburgh’s Department of City Planning and the Greater Hazelwood Community Collaborative.
Action teams are being formed to look at topics like land use and community and economic development. UrbanKind Institute is conducting stakeholder interviews and focus groups.
But Hazelwood Green itself must also go through a separate process where plans are presented to the city’s planning commission for approval. Those plans will include their own set of public meetings.
“The [neighborhood] plan is definitely being done mindful of Hazelwood Green,” said city neighborhood planner Alexander Phillips, adding that despite his work in the city planning office, he also does not know what’s included in the city’s bid for Amazon.
Organizers are discussing, in a general sense, how large developments could affect the community.
“For us, it’s really about how can we be strategic and think about the development that might happen there,” he said.
When big business comes to the neighborhood, O’Connor said understanding the community’s priorities is key; that way, the first conversation with a company can help root out if the two visions can align. McNulty also pointed to the importance of the plan to create a “shared vision with the community for development.”
In 2013, the city approved a preliminary land development plan for the Hazelwood Green site, along with rezoning the area as a “specially planned district.” It featured four distinct, interconnected business districts. Any updates to the plan must go before the city’s planning commission, Phillips said.
Project director Rebecca Flora, whose firm ReMake is managing the site’s redevelopment, said a new draft of the plan is in the works that takes into account market changes in Pittsburgh and focuses on modern, urban design. That plan will likely be submitted to the city in late March or early April, she said.
Residents often point to local examples of what they don’t want to happen:
- The Waterfront: Where a railroad track separates development from the community and the neighborhood did not turn around when new business came to town.
- Lawrenceville: Where housing prices skyrocketed and the neighborhood’s ‘hip’ offerings are accessible to only a certain crowd.
- East Liberty: Where housing prices increased and the feel of the neighborhood has changed.
Hicks said the development in Hazelwood, and how good or bad its outcome is for current residents, will likely depend on what happens behind closed doors.
“The community will always represent the interest of the residents of Hazelwood,” she said, “but, what really is a concern, is what people are willing to barter for a shiny new waterfront.”
Hazelwood Green is owned by a coalition of three prominent city foundations: the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, the Heinz Endowments* and Richard King Mellon Foundation.*
Plans for the site have evolved since the foundations purchased it in 2002 under an LLC named Almono.
With foundations as owners, residents and community leaders say they’re hopeful they want to do right by the community. They’ve seen representatives from each foundation walking around the community and attending meetings. The foundations have made tying the project into the neighborhood a priority, committing nearly 20 percent of the 178 acres for public use. And the Heinz Endowments has for years provided funding to support Hazelwood groups, including the Hazelwood Initiative, Center of Life, the St. Stephen Parish Charitable Trust, Pittsburgh Community Kitchen, Rebuilding Together Pittsburgh and Propel Schools to support the opening of a school in Hazelwood, among others.
Flora said her firm and the foundations are serious about involving residents in the plans for the site. “It’s our responsibility to be aware of the issues and concerns of the neighborhood.”
That means attending neighborhood meetings and serving on steering committees. “We’re not just some suits parachuting in every now and again,” she said.
Community groups say they think they have an open dialogue with Hazelwood Green’s developers. Amazon is where the big question mark lies.
Residents have been vocal about their desire to see development on the Second Avenue business district and in their neighborhoods at the same time Hazelwood Green is developed. There’s been some progress along Second Avenue despite its vacant, sometimes crumbling structures. New businesses — like La Gourmandine, a French bakery — moved into the neighborhood in 2017. The Hazelwood Initiative, with support from the Heinz Endowments, has purchased four properties in the business district with plans of renovating them for development. The first is a coffee shop set to open this summer.
Dianne Shenk, owner and operator of Dylamato’s Market, opened up shop two years ago on Second Avenue. With the opening of La Gourmandine and the “buzz” surrounding Hazelwood, she’s seen new customers. Yet she believes there’s much more that needs to be done. Residents continue to point out that the community still lacks its own grocery store.
There is also a worry about how redevelopment will affect housing prices and if it will lead to displacement. David Brewton, director of real estate at the Hazelwood Initiative, said it’s emerging as a top concern from the community.
In recent weeks, representatives from the Hazelwood Initiative, Glen Hazel Management Corp. and the ReMake Group have been meeting to discuss how development can happen without displacement, Brewton said. The three organizations are developing a housing strategy together, he said.
“Our goal of these meetings is not just to say, ‘We think we should have housing for everybody… What we want to say is, ‘Well, how are we going to do this,’” he said.
O’Connor said it’s important for the city and Urban Redevelopment Authority to maintain control of land in Hazelwood to ensure affordable housing in the community.
Jobs are also a priority. Residents tell stories of how Uber came to the neighborhood to build a test track for its autonomous vehicles and residents didn’t get hired.
“We want to see a source of employment,” said Shenk, who also serves as a board member of the Hazelwood Initiative.
Hicks looks at it this way: There’s buzz. Conversations. Meetings. Discussions. Panels. Steering committees. All the typical things that come with pending development in a neighborhood. That’s not enough. Leaders need to be applying what residents are saying to the development.
“Unfortunately, I think what’s missing, from the city’s perspective, is a realization on their part that they don’t know how to do equitable development in the city, period,” she said. “They do not have a good track record.”
Rev. Murray said he wants to ensure the people of Hazelwood are not paying the price for big development.
“We are backed against a wall,” he said. “If it’s not going to benefit the residents and the community, then we’re not for it. I know Downtown they love it, but we live here.”
He compares the prospect of big corporations, like Amazon, coming to Hazelwood, to someone giving you a car. It’s a present. Then you learn you have to make payments on it.
“We’ve dealt with that feeling of broken promises,” he said. “Now you’re talking about all of this and it puts us on watch… We’ve gotta keep both eyes on it.”
This story was fact-checked by Natasha Khan.
Stephanie Hacke is a freelance journalist in Pittsburgh. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @StephOnRecord.
*The Heinz Endowments and Richard King Mellon Foundation provide funding to PublicSource.
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