A group of residents is trying to save a bit of green space known as Green Street Park in Regent Square.
Wilkinsburg School Board has petitioned Allegheny County Common Pleas Court to sell the Green Street playground and park at Green and Mifflin avenues for a townhouse development proposed by Akator.
A group of residents objected to the petition and the court postponed the hearing until Monday, March 11. The neighborhood group and its lawyer prepared a formal objection to the sale at the hearing. The judge should have a ruling on the issue within the next week or two.
The small, 100-year-old park has two heritage pin oak trees plus four linden trees, a swing set and basketball court, some seating, a non-functional sprinkler and some grassy areas.
"It has not been well maintained for decades but the neighbors have painted away the graffiti, planted gardens, rebuilt the seats, cleaned the debris and trimmed the shrubbery," said Linda Kauffmann, one of the residents opposing the sale. "In spite of its condition, it is a much-used play space, a welcome open space in a very densely populated neighborhood and a green space that is valuable and beloved."
Resident Bob Firth was the one who discovered that the school board planned to sell the park. He had a chance conversation on Valentine's Day with Brenda Smith, director of the Nine Mile Run Watershed Association, who told him Wilkinsburg School District was planning to sell the park property to a developer who would bulldoze it into townhouses. He learned that the court hearing to sign off on the sale was going to be the next Tuesday.
Firth found one little piece of paper with the official notice of the court hearing taped at knee height on one of the low concrete walls in the park. That night, he plastered the park with red-and-yellow notices to the effect: "Warning: This park is about to be destroyed." He included details about the hearing below.
Kauffmann and some friends went door to door, handing out leaflets and asking people to sign a petition. Five residents spoke at the hearing Feb. 19 and Judge Judith Friedman continued the case until March 11 on the basis that there had not been enough notice given to the neighborhood. She strongly recommended the neighbors hire an attorney to give her legal reasons to oppose the sale, Firth said.
He said the school district learned only last fall that they owned the property after the borough pressured them to take care of its maintenance. The board voted at its December meeting to sell the property to a developer without public bid on the sale and without any outreach to the community or the neighborhood.
"The whole neighborhood has been energized by these developments," Firth said.
In just a few days, 148 people signed the petition and dozens of written testimonials were submitted attesting to its wide use and importance for recreation and as a green space.
Losing the Green Street Park, and its several "heritage" trees, seems unimaginable to Firth.
"My house looks right out across the street to a row of three beautiful linden trees," Firth said. "The neighborhood is unanimous in its opposition, feeling that the loss of the park to housing would add to an already overcrowded parking situation and lower property values. Several neighbors indicated that the park was one of the main reasons they moved into the area."
The neighborhood group is proposing to take over the park with the goal of developing and maintaining it for the benefit of all the neighbors.
"There are many 50-year-old men who have been shooting hoops there for at least 10 years," Kaufmann said. "Local kids and visiting grandchildren still ride bikes, shoot hoops, practice with light sabers and ride on the swings. This neighborhood does not need more houses and more cars—it is a good quiet neighborhood that needs and deserves our protection."