This strip of dirt is all that remains of a plan for a sidewalk connecting Ashley Street from Dix Way to East Liberty Boulevard in Larimer. Photo by Ann Belser.

A strip of newly seeded topsoil between Dix Way and East Liberty Boulevard in Larimer is the only outward sign of an intense land battle underway in the neighborhood.

The strip was dug up by the city, framed for a sidewalk and an underlay of gravel was laid. But the project was halted before cement could be poured. 

The work stopped because the city does not own the property. 

The site is owned by the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh (URA), which did not authorize the city to continue the Ashley Street sidewalk to East Liberty Boulevard, Gisele Betances told the Larimer Consensus Group during its April meeting.

The project was to be part of the city’s sidewalk program, but after the work was stopped, new topsoil replaced the gravel.

That parcel is one of 15 properties along East Liberty Boulevard that the URA was planning to develop.

The development plan came before the URA in February 2022. KEEL Partners planned to purchase 17 properties — 15 on East Liberty Boulevard and two on Carver Street. The plan was to build 14 townhouses on East Liberty Boulevard and two detached homes on Carver Street. Those homes would then be sold to families with incomes that are at 80% of the area median income. To qualify to buy the homes, a couple could make no more than $60,700 annually, while a family of four could make no more than $75,850, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services.

Malik Bankston, the former executive director of the Kingsley Association, says that KEEL Partners is made up of the Kingsley, East Liberty Development, Inc., East Liberty Housing, Inc. and the Larimer Consensus Group.

The proposed sidewalk would have connected Ashley Street from Dix Way to East Liberty Boulevard in Larimer. Aerial view courtesy of Google Maps.

By August of 2022, according to URA board meeting minutes, the plan had changed. Instead, KEEL was going to build 18 units with 12 selling at market rate and six set aside as affordable housing.

Larimer Consensus Group is not on board with the new plan.

Donna Jackson, who oversees community revitalization and economic development for Larimer Consensus Group, notes that the property was set aside in the Choice Neighborhoods Program for green space.

K. Chase Patterson, board chair for the Larimer Consensus Group, says that over time, “There’s going to be development in Larimer. There’s going to be some white folks that are going to make a lot of money.” 

Patterson says the development of the townhouses is on hold and the URA has paused a development loan to KEEL at the consensus group’s request. 

Ann Belser is the owner of Print, a newspaper covering Pittsburgh's East End communities. After receiving a master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, she moved to Squirrel Hill and was a staff writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for 20 years where she covered local communities, county government, courts and business.