Monday, July 23, 2007

Outragious Letter to the Editor

John McIntire wrote a column in the C-P. Andrew Ellsworth of Friendship wrote a letter:

McIntire lacks an understanding of the approval process for signage and zoning ordinances.


McIntire's proposed action is, in fact, illegal under the state Municpalities Planning Code.

Can we get an open-source legal opinion on this? We don't see the acting City Solicitor being much help.

The Comet is positive that the letter-writer is wrong. The city has established for itself some limitations on what can be allowed. It has in no way constrained itself from restricting a specific mega-sign for any reason the community deems appropriate.

Why is city planning generally not handled in a courtroom? Why not leave it up to a judge?

City planning goes before a large deliberative body, who is appointed by the mayor -- an elected official. The whole process depends on open public comments before any rulings.

Even after that, city planning kicks back up to City Council -- more elected officials.

Every step of this process suggests that the people get to have a say. The lack of an ordinance specifically forbidding this mega-sign from the U.S. Steel Tower in no way prohibits the City from exercising its discretion.

The letter writer sneers that the City can not "interpret the ordinances at their whim based on popular discontent."

As long the interpretation is honest -- it's all about popular discontent.

There are reasons that so many Pittsburghers are so ill-disposed towards the big sign. We are talking about our tallest building, and one that is also a testament to our industrial heritage.

The sign would be by far the largest, absolutely dominating our skyline -- and frankly, UPMC has not yet earned the same civic status as say, Heinz, or Mellon Bank. Status that must grow from years and decades of meaningful civic partnership.

The "legal argument" is a naked power grab: it is meant to help big business hijack powers rightly vested in the political sphere. It should be stopped before it sets worse and worse precedents.

The letter writer pleads that if we reject the application of UPMC:

That would follow the dangerous precedent set out by the Bush administration -- selectively obeying laws that were meaningfully crafted by other parts of government.

There are so many things wrong with that analogy, we cannot even get started. The ordinances of which we speak are intended to be interpreted strictly, and to leave all other powers in the hands of the executive and legislative branches of government.

Anybody who can find a way to drag George W. Bush into this, is working awfully hard in support of UPMC's latest power play.


  1. The MPC (Municipalities' Planning Code) largely has nothing to do with Home Rule Municipalities.

  2. Revision:

    The MPC doesn't include cities of the First and Second Class (except second-class (A) cities -- Scranton)

    That is why it doesn't include Pittsburgh or Philadelphia.

  3. I have always wondered how much influence a LTE exerts on any single issue in terms of increasing/reducing public pressure. Especially in light of the dramatic collapse in the volume of newspaper circulation and sales over the past 5 years--in the electronic age the reader has the benefit of easily sorting and avoiding content. Even if hardcopy publications were more popular than ever, how much value does a LTE bring to the public interest?

  4. Nice tip.

    My reading of the Municipal Planning Code (MPC) confirms it: On page 6, "An Act", after the table of contents and before article one, it says it applies to cities of the 2A, third class, boroughs, townships, and on down.

    The MPC was not written with Pittsburgh and Philadelphia in mind.

    Viva la Home Rule Charter!!

    Another note: the "shaky legal ground" opinion was not brought to the planning commission by anyone in the law department. It was brought by Pat Ford, the Mayor's development czar / rising star.

    His portfolio usually contains work with outfits like the URA, and the Sports & Exhibition Authority.

  5. This has little or NOTHING to do with civic status.

    BTW, the zoning board does have the capacity to act as a court. Same too does city council on certain types of matters (such as this).

    So, a trial like event can unfold and those folks are like judge and jury -- with an appeals court at the next level (city council).

    The zoning board is another board that should be NUKED. It is toothless. It passes the buck when hard questions / issues arrive.

    It is worthless and generally provides a new layer of red tape.

    The city can do without it for 10 or 15 years.

  6. We're not on board with nuking the zoning board. Giving it some teeth, maybe.

  7. The Zoning Board of Adjustment, like the Planning Commission, has all the teeth it needs. It's the person who APPOINTS them who determines, by force of prerogative, what those teeth chew into.

    The Zoning Board and the Planning Commission (the latter by virtue of the City Council) are quasi-judicial to begin with, so Mark is right about that part. And generally, the Zoning Board and specifically the Planning Commission/Council rarely EVER get their decisions overturned in court for that exact reason.

    Acting in line with the duties delegated to them is usually not grounds for court challenges, although I have seen them get hauled in front of courts from time to time.

  8. thank you for spelling mcintire right. christ, how hard is it to wrap your fucking head around that in this city.

  9. Well, thanks for being cool on most issues.