Democracy-in-action can be a tiresome thing: Meeting after meeting, hearings ad nauseum, people saying the same thing over and over, cleaved to their cause, unswayed by the other guy and frustrated.
But if you're disinterested it can also be comic.
Last night's exhibition played out at Westwood Elementary, with lots of impressionable kids in attendance.
The tireless residents of Chicken Hill, a.k.a. Ridgemont, went at the tireless agents of SouthStar Development, with a panel of city council members, a couple of people from the Pittsburgh school board and a moderator who, it's a good bet, won't be accepting opportunities to keep order with a microphone anytime soon.
City Council may vote tomorrow on whether to rezone 10 acres to accommodate SouthStar's plan to build 178 residences called City Vista. The plan would abut the Parkway Center Mall.
Councilwoman Theresa Smith called the meeting to give anyone who had not yet opined or found out what was going on a last chance to know the facts, conjectures, alleged conspiracies and imminent disasters awaiting them. Fifty people came.
Greentree Borough has approved allowing 16 acres to be residential development within a commercial zone. That way, the Greentree portion could be developed as either one if the city does not rezone its land and the plan has to be altered.
Irving Firman, SouthStar's attorney, said the area is "ripe for development. The market forces are saying it, and we think this is a very good plan." Although the mall is moribund, he said hundreds of new (and better-off) people within walking distance should revive it. "Businesses go to where people are."
The six new buildings would be phased in over time, depending on the market, he said. One would be eight stories, with two levels of parking.
At one point, about two hours in, with one resident dangerously red in the face yelling about lies and another man yanking around in his seat like a dog on a tether, having warned about methane explosions the drilling will cause, moderator Johanna Murphy was looking like a teacher in the classroom from hell. She started out warning people about interjecting, then argued with people who persisted to interject, then seemed to give up.
Civil engineer Dan Deiseroth explained that the undermined land has been drilled without incident, but the methane guy in the audience said he doesn't believe they have drilled because we would have all been destroyed if they had. Interjections about water service, traffic and erosion rained down from the audience, with school and council panelists also interjecting.
Councilman Doug Shields stood up and opened his arms like a conductor.
This was supposed to be the developers' turn to talk and address questions that filled about six pages on a big easel that Ms. Murphy had compiled and it was already 9:30 and two questions had barely been broached.
"Listen!" yelled Mr. Shields. More quietly, he said, "Listen... to... the... answers. I want to hear the answers. Take a breath. Count to 10."
Chicken Hill is a nook of about 400 people in houses on sloping roads between the West End and Greentree. The kids have to play in the streets, traffic on Greentree Road is a headache and the residents say the water pressure defies indoor showers, but they extol a quality of life unmatched anywhere in the world.
"Pittsburgh is changing," said Lynn DeLorenzo, principal of DeLorenzo & Co., SouthStar's local partner. "This site will be developed." She said her firm is interested in making a place that is close to buses and not a contributor to sprawl. The plan is to reforest with native trees and build 65 percent of greenspace into the village.
"We felt that by not developing in a suburban market, people could reduce emissions."
But the plan calls for 650 parking spaces, a number required for the anticipated population.
"That doesn't seem very green-friendly," said Councilman Bruce Kraus.
Cars are a bane to Chicken Hill now, its residents say. One way in from Greentree Road, Hamburg Street, is a narrow, crumbling road two cars can't pass on. The developers say they need it but agreed to use it only for City Vista residents to come up, not go down. They also propose to widen it by three feet, but people of Hamburg say there aren't three feet to be had.
City Vista, if filled, would double the number of people now in Ridgemont. They would be considerably better off, paying housing prices in the hundreds of thousands, with their own clubhouse and pool and hiking trails. The current residents in their modest homes say they are getting nothing. One man implored city officials to "at least give us a park for our kids to play in."
"Their buildings will block the sun and I will be a mushroom," said one woman.
Another man thundered, "Let us alone!"