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City Neighborhoods
Small city neighborhood caught in fight over land for community center

Lincoln Place limbo

Monday, October 21, 2002

By Jan Ackerman, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

In Lincoln Place, a neighborhood that has long regarded itself as a stepchild of the city of Pittsburgh, mounds of junk and mounds of litigation continue to pile up around what remains of the Mifflin Road Mobile Home Park.

Margaret Skelton, 80, visits with the Rev. Phil Jamison of Lincoln Place Presbyterian Church after Jamison had dropped off a supply of food. Lincoln Place lacks services for senior citizens and Jamison tries to help fill the need with a food pantry at his church. (Steve Mellon, Post-Gazette)

The city's offer to purchase the 7.2-acre park on Mifflin Road for a future site of a community center and fire station has been blocked for almost a year by multiple lawsuits filed by Neighborhood Legal Services and the refusal of four families to leave the trailer park.

"Neighborhood Legal Services is holding the neighborhood back and they are supposed to be helping people," complained James Emro, president of the 31 st Ward Citizens Council, a small council that serves the three communities of the 31 st Ward: Lincoln Place, Hays and New Homestead.

He said the endless litigation is having a devastating economic effect on Ed and Linda Raimondi, the owners of the trailer park, who had hoped to make a substantial profit by selling the property to the city.

The Raimondis, who bought the park for $500,000 and were hoping to sell it for $700,000, are forced to keep utilities on in the park for the families who refuse to leave, even though they aren't getting money from the renters. The health department and state are citing them for having debris in the park and their new lawyer, Robert Downey Jr., said "there are foreclosure actions on every piece of property the Raimondis own" because of the trailer park debts.

"Mr. Raimondi owes upward of $114,000 worth of utility bills," said Emro, who doubts that the Raimondis will break even in the deal by the time the litigation is finished.

Downey called the four families who won't leave "squatters and obstructionists." He said Raimondi has successfully gotten orders to evict the tenants, but NLS lawyers keeping appealing and now are demanding jury trials.

NLS also sued the city of Pittsburgh claiming that the residents deserve compensation and relocation expenses under the eminent domain code because they are being forced to move to make way for a government project. That suit is pending before Allegheny County Judge Joseph M. James.

Eileen D. Yacknin, a NLS attorney, said the tenants have legal rights, which they are exercising. She said some of them own their trailers and were not compensated for them. She said the Raimondis acted egregiously when they decided last fall to sell the park, starting turning off the utilities at the park and creating "uninhabitable" conditions for residents, some of whom can't afford to move.

Downey said the tenants were offered help but refused it. There's enough animosity to go around and attempts to settle the lawsuits have not been successful. So while the lawyers continue to debate, the community of Lincoln Place waits for something to happen.

Its residents aren't getting too excited. Some say a community center has been promised for at least 50 years.

For years, Lincoln Place was known as part of the "Forgotten 31 st Ward," an arm of the city sandwiched between West Mifflin and Munhall. It is a working-class community of 3,671 residents, many of whom have lived there for generations in well-kept homes with manicured lawns on dead-end streets.

"Lincoln Place is kind of a little island. We are countrified," said Marlene Emro, a lifelong resident and mother of James. "The only thing we have is the school. We don't have any city buildings."

Through the years, Lincoln Place has had a tendency to be lumped with the suburbs that surround it even though it is part of the city. As an example, when Allegheny County Department of Aging officials decided which agency would provide services to Lincoln Place's senior citizens, they placed the community under Life Span Inc., in Homestead, not under Pittsburgh CityParks.

Sometimes its identity is confused with Lincoln Borough in southern Allegheny County or Lincoln-Lemington, a city neighborhood north of Homewood.

"They used to call us the bridge people," said James Emro, because the Glenwood Bridge was basically the only route to Hays and Lincoln Place.

In recent years, Emro said, that image of a forgotten community has been changing, thanks to help from State Rep. Harry Readshaw, D-Carrick, and city Councilman Bob O'Connor.

"We are an up and coming neighborhood ... we are finally on the move," Emro said.

Readshaw brought money to Lincoln Place to build a small in-ground swimming pool at McBride Park and also secured funding to purchase the trailer park for a future community center.

"State Rep. Readshaw is our godsend," Emro said.

O'Connor's aide, Doug Shields, scoffed when asked if Lincoln Place and the 31 st Ward are forgotten.

"Forgotten by whom?" asked Shields, adding that recreational services have been lacking, but O'Connor has been steering money into parks and playgrounds and infrastructure improvements.

But there's no community center where supervised programs can be held for either young people or senior citizens.

In an attempt to fill the gap, the Rev. Phil Jamision, a relative newcomer, is trying to put together some community programs at his Lincoln Place Presbyterian Church on Muldowney Street.

This summer, the church was the site of the first-ever Lincoln Place Pride Festival, which featured artwork, murals and historic photographs about the community.

Nancy DeGregorio, 65, a lifelong Lincoln Place resident and member of the church, said residents were invited to comb through their attics to produce old photographs and information about the history of Lincoln Place.

One of the most interesting things they found was that an amusement park called Calhoun Park was opened in 1895 by Pittsburgh Railways Company on Mifflin Road, where the trailer park now stands. The park closed about 1910.

Lincoln Place Presbyterian Church, with about 85 members, also has opened a food pantry on Saturday mornings that Jamison said is used by all sorts of people, including senior citizens who own their own homes, but can't quite make it on Social Security and small pensions because their pharmacy bills are so expensive.

Once a month, the church is trying to bring in speakers to talk to seniors about issues they might be interested in, such as how to apply for a Homestead Exemption on their taxes.

"Seniors here are under-served," he said.

"And we don't have any place for our kids to spend time," said DeGregorio.

While McBride Park is well maintained, it is isolated and it often becomes a hangout where young people drink beer and cause problems. The community has experienced the pain of some young suicides.

Emro is anxious for the litigation surrounding the trailer park property to be resolved. He said the property could be developed in three phases: senior citizen apartments, a recreation center and eventually a new fire house and Emergency Medical Services station which would replace the one in Hays. When and if such a large-scale development would happen in Lincoln Place is anyone's guess.

"But we really do need it," said DeGregorio.

Jan Ackerman can be reached at jackerman@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1370.

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