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Community meeting report: Accessibility improvements coming to Keystone Church | The Homepage

Also: PWSA primer includes info on lead line replacement and newly expanded water bill assistance programs

Top: aerial view of a neighborhood showing the Keystone Church on Hazelwood Avenue, Gladstone Annex and Gladstone Residences, Lewis Parklet, the Historic Carnegie Library and other landmarks.
Top: An aerial view shows the location of Keystone Church relative to neighborhood landmarks. Bottom left: Keystone Church as seen from Hazelwood Avenue. Bottom right: A rendering of Keystone Church from the same angle with the proposed stair and elevator tower. Images courtesy of WTW Architects

By Juliet Martinez, managing editor

Hazelwood residents and visitors filled the second-floor classroom at Community Kitchen Pittsburgh at Second and Flowers avenues on March 12 for the Greater Hazelwood hybrid community meeting. About a dozen more people tuned in online. Attendees learned about a planned addition to the Keystone Church during a development activities meeting, also known as a DAM. They also got an update on Pittsburgh Water and Sewer’s lead line replacement and financial assistance programs.

What is a DAM?

Hazelwood Initiative Executive Director Sonya Tilghman explained what a development activities meeting is. The Department of City Planning works with Registered Community Organizations (Hazelwood Initiative, in this case) to give people a way to offer input into development activities that affect them. If a project meets certain thresholds and the developer requests a hearing with the Zoning Board of Adjustment, then the Planning Commission, the Historic Review Commission or the Art Commission must coordinate with the Registered Community Organization and City Planning to hold a DAM.

This meeting gives the community a chance to learn about the proposal and share any concerns early in the process. Those with questions or concerns may email Hazelwood’s neighborhood planner, Austin Herzog, at or call him at 412-598-5982.

Keystone Church developments

The church at 161 Hazelwood Ave. will become more accessible with the addition of a stairway tower and elevator, according to Joe Adiutori Jr., one of the architects on the project. The design phase will wrap up in the next couple of months, after which the project team expects to go before the Zoning Board, then start construction in the fall.

The goal of the project is to add functionality, in Mr. Adiutori’s words. The plan is to build the stair tower and elevator to connect to the basement level along Hazelwood Avenue, the first-floor main sanctuary level and the second floor. Connecting to the third floor poses technical challenges and would require too many changes to that floor, he said.

Inside the church, which is also the home of the community organization Center of Life, the staircases will be removed and the space they occupy filled in. The hardwood staircases will be repurposed if possible. Several existing ramps inside the building will be updated to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

On the outside, the team plans to refurbish the driveway, adding stormwater management drainage and a dumpster enclosure, and removing an underused sidewalk. A new mechanical unit will be installed out of view of the street.

The stair tower will be neutral in color, so it will not compete visually with the existing colors and textures of the building’s brick exterior. It will not block the stained-glass windows.

The project needs zoning variances because the building is in a hillside zoning district and already categorized as a non-conforming use. The addition will expand it, so a zoning review is required.

Mr. Adiutori promised to inform the community about the date of the project’s zoning hearing when he has it.

Water and sewer updates

Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority CEO Will Pickering gave an overview of the authority’s finances, infrastructure projects and customer assistance programs. The authority, also known as PWSA, raised water rates at the end of February.

Along with the rise in rates, PWSA has expanded its customer assistance programs. PWSA employees attended the meeting to answer questions and enroll people in the programs. Households earning up to twice the federal poverty level are now eligible for assistance. One program forgives past-due balances, and another works with customers to gradually pay off high balances. The hardship grants are now $400. And qualifying customers can get leaks in toilets, sinks and showers fixed through a new in-home plumbing program.

The rain-barrel credit program gives customers a one-time $40 credit if they install a rain barrel on their property.

Mr. Pickering explained that the PWSA is a municipal authority with a board of directors appointed by the mayor and confirmed by city council. The authority serves more than 116,000 customers and oversees about 1,000 miles of water pipes and 1,200 miles of sewer lines. It also maintains 7,500 fire hydrants and 30,000 storm drains. He said 65 million gallons of water flow through the city each day.

Almost 30% of each water bill goes toward principal and interest payments on the authority’s debt. Another 30% goes to Alcosan, the Allegheny County Sanitary district, which processes all wastewater for the county. The remaining third is split between administrative and repair costs, he said.

For decades the authority’s approach to maintenance on the city’s water infrastructure was “we'll wait until it fails and then find the funds to fix it,” Mr. Pickering said. But PWSA is now investing heavily in improving and preserving the system for future generations. Last year, PWSA spent $115 million on proactive maintenance.

This included lead line replacement. The authority has replaced almost 11,000 public and just under 8,000 private water lines. If the sidewalk is damaged during lead line replacement, the authority replaces it at no charge and repairs the road, repaving if necessary. Replacing lead lines protects customers, especially infants and children, from lead exposure that can cause permanent neurodevelopmental delays.

To add another level of protection, the authority adds a chemical called orthophosphate to water. It causes a coating to form on the inside of lead pipes. This prevents lead from leaching into water.

Hazelwood Initiative updates

Ms. Tilghman said the historic Carnegie Library on Monongahela Street needs about $2 million simply to prevent it deteriorating further. The Urban Redevelopment Authority may have funds for it but needs to know more about the long-term plan for the building. This may be the topic of future community meetings.

The organization is seeking a new director of engagement and sustainability. Anyone who is interested in applying should email a resume and cover letter to


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