Updated: Mar 7
Editor's note: McKees Rocks Councilmember Nick Radoycis, a longtime fire chief, borough proponent and Allegheny County District Attorney was admitted to an area hospital in critical condition and died Sunday, March 5. The team at Gazette 2.0 has Radoycis and his family and friends in our thoughts during this difficult time.
By Elizabeth Perry
McKees Rocks council members plan to send a letter to the City of Pittsburgh rejecting the prospect of a footbridge connecting the borough to the planned Sheraden Park upgrade despite support for exploration of the idea from Mayor David Flick and several residents.
The lone dissenting vote by council was cast by President Archie Brinza, who prior to the vote, had tried to reassure those in attendance at the Feb. 14 council meeting that the borough heard their concerns.
City of Pittsburgh Council President Theresa Kail-Smith, who has been a proponent of the project hoped the letter would not be the end of the conversation.
“We have to be realistic about what is happening and not happening; let’s not react to things that are not happening,” Kail-Smith said.
What the borough council rejected was the notion of seeking a grant to conduct a study to see if a pedestrian bridge connecting Sheraden Park to McKees Rocks would be feasible.
In the Sheraden Park Master Plan adopted in March 2020, Tuxedo Skate Park, McGonigle Park and Sheraden Park would all be connected through an interlocking trail system, making the park potentially walkable.
Further proposed ideas for the project include an apiary for bees, a wilderness education area, a jumbo slide and a dog park.
The proposed pedestrian bridge would be designed to connect the waterfront zone of Sheraden Park to McKees Rocks, “strategically located in an area that will provide access to future planned McKees Rocks downtown development. This plan aims to couple Sheraden Park improvements nicely with future parking, retail and waterfront access on the McKees Rocks side of Chartiers Creek,” according to the proposal.
The pedestrian bridge to McKees Rocks would be part of Phase 3 of the project.
Kail-Smith said currently, the park is in the most initial phase of development.
“I may be dead before this happens, I’m in my sixties,” Kail-Smith said.
Residents Samantha Levitzki-Wright, Nancy Rees and Dolores Cousins were in attendance at the Feb. 14 McKees Rocks council meeting where the decision to terminate exploration of the pedestrian bridge was made, and all expressed interest in learning more about the park master plan. Levitzki-Wright expressed confusion about the board’s opposition.
“I was perplexed because there was no input from the public, just the 10 of you making this decision,” Levitzki-Wright said.
Council member Nick Radoycis addressed Levitzki-Wright directly.
“There is no advantageous reason for us to have this,” Radoycis said.
"The city is pretty arrogant in coming to us and telling us we’re going to have a footbridge without seeking council’s advice. It’s their money, we’re not going to see a dime of it.”
Much of his anger centered on the borough not being more included in the earliest planning phase.
Radoycis said the first concept for the idea had been initiated in 2016 without council approval.
Jeb Feldman, director of economic development for the McKees Rocks Community Development Corporation, said in 2016 the then-council had been invited to participate in feedback regarding the planning.
“There were a lot of invitations up into the process, in the city and we extended invitations often and regularly as that process took place,” Feldman said.
Feldman said stakeholders from the McKees Rocks area, including County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and developer Craig Rippole were integral in gathering input for the park proposal.
The initial report had been compiled by the Urban Land Institute, Feldman said.
According to its website, the ULI is composed of “30,000 experts in the fields of real estate and land use who volunteer their skills and knowledge each year to help communities around the world.
“I’d like to point out that we agree with the Urban Land Institute that this could be an incredible sort of amenity,” Feldman said.
At one point during the Feb. 14 council meeting, Radoycis compared the plans for the pedestrian bridge and the actions of the City of Pittsburgh to the Nazis in Germany building up their troops and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
In a conversation after the meeting, Radoycis acknowledged his words were a lawyerly tactic designed to put the city on the defensive in order to gain more leverage with them.
The entirety of his opposition was based on his assumption the City of Pittsburgh would not listen to the borough’s wishes otherwise.
“McKees Rocks needs to be the mouse that roared,” Radoycis said.
According to the Sheraden Park Master Plan, there had been a period of discourse throughout 2019 with several public meetings.
Feldman said invitations were extended by the CDC to those meetings to McKees Rocks residents, including those who had then been on the council.
Feldman wondered if Radoycis and others currently on the council felt excluded from the process because of “turnover,” in that many council members who’d been in power at the time were no longer there.
“These things take a long time,” Feldman said.
Kail-Smith said she’d met with some of the members of the McKees Rocks Borough Council recently about the park plan, and that some council members had worried crime would pour in from Sheraden through the bridge.
In the master plan itself, the authors acknowledge the park’s secluded nature had given rise to illegal dumping and other illicit activities.
To remedy that, it was suggested cameras could be installed at park facilities and police patrols would need to increase to “deter unlawful behavior.”
“Park plans should reflect the need to promote feelings of safety and discourage these activities through the design of new and improved amenities that bring more eyes to the park and increase park usership and stewardship,” according to the master plan.
Though there is crime in Sheraden, Kail-Smith said the neighborhood is also experiencing financial growth.
“The only way we’re going to overcome these things is if we have more people, more foot traffic, more business,” Kail-Smith said.