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11/9/21: New plan for city’s biggest development site concerns City Planning Commission

A proposal that would allow much more flexibility in the redevelopment of Hazelwood Green – including near-tripling of the allowable parking – drew criticism from the City Planning Commission at a briefing ahead of a likely hearing and vote in two weeks.

The 178-acre Hazelwood Green, owned by a coalition of three foundations, includes just two redeveloped sections: The Mill 19 tech office  complex, and the Roundhouse incubator. A development team led by New York City firm Tishman Speyer wants to change the rules for the site to allow more uses, including warehouses; both shorter and taller buildings; and, most controversially, an increase in the temporary surface parking maximum from 2,000 to 5,500 spaces.

“It feels like 2,000 parking spaces is generous and 5,000 feels like even more,” said commission Chair Christine Mondor.  She noted that the North Shore has around 2,700 or 2,800 parking spaces, and twice that number “feels like a lot to me.”

“If there was no Planning Commission and no zoning and we could do whatever we want, we probably would be shooting for more than 5,500 spaces,” said Austin Gelbard, a senior director at Tishman Speyer. The developer wants to attract a “critical mass” of employment to the site, he said, and that requires surface parking until transit service ramps up sufficiently. He noted that the Mill 19 complex, which covers only a small fraction of the site, will soon need roughly 1,000 parking spaces, which is half of the number currently allowed for the entire site.

“The minute that we can get rid of that [surface parking] and convert that into something that is more productive and more viable,” said the development team’s attorney Jonathan Kamin,  “we will do that, and market forces will drive us to do it.”

“You’re going to have the density you want in this district,” Gelbard said.

Nonetheless, commissioners worried that the combination of warehouse and industrial uses, reduced minimum building heights and parking could mark a sharp departure from Hazelwood’s longstanding desire for a dense, sustainable development on the site. “Though we would not intend it to look like the Waterfront, it’s going to look like the Waterfront,” if development reaches a certain point and then stalls amid a sea of parking, said Mondor.

The Waterfront, built starting in 1999, is a shopping and entertainment area that spans West Homestead, Homestead and Munhall.

The commission expects to hold a public hearing on the proposed changes and to vote on them on Nov. 23. Its recommendation would then go to Pittsburgh City Council for its consideration.

The site is owned by Almono LP, a creation of the R.K. Mellon Foundation, the Heinz Endowments and the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation.

11/9/21: Commission to weigh in on expansion of inclusionary zoning to Bloomfield, Polish Hill

A development rule that requires affordable housing wherever 20 or more dwellings are built could be extended to Bloomfield and Polish Hill, following City Planning Commission consideration and a likely City Council vote next year.

The commission heard a briefing on Councilwoman Deb Gross’s proposal to expand inclusionary zoning from its current Lawrenceville boundaries to the pair of nearby neighborhoods. The commission is likely to hold a public hearing and vote on the proposal on Jan. 11, setting up a binding council vote thereafter.

In Lawrenceville, developers who want to build 20 or more apartments or for-sale homes must ensure that 10% are affordable, for 35 years. For apartments, affordability means rents are locked in at rates calculated to be manageable for households earning less than half of the area median income. In the case of for-sale homes, the sale prices have to be tailored so that mortgages are within reach for households earning 80% or less of area median income.

Developers have the option to locate the affordable units outside of the primary development site, but the minimum number of price-controlled units then rises to 12% of the total.

The commission has previously been supportive of inclusionary zoning. “I’m obviously still very disappointed that we don’t have this citywide,” said Commissioner Sabina Deitrick.

Bloomfield and Polish Hill are scheduled to hold a Dec. 12 Development Activities Meeting to solicit neighborhood views on the proposal.

11/1/21: District judge predicts “no mass eviction tidal wave” despite rule change

Update (11/1/21): The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has denied Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas President Judge Kim Berkeley Clark’s petition to extend eviction curbs through November. Landlord-tenant cases in the county are proceeding under pre-pandemic timelines.

Landlords in Allegheny County filed 542 cases seeking the evictions of tenants in October, which is the second-highest total in the last year but still only around half of pre-pandemic norms.

The filings come as district judges – who rule on eviction requests – wait to learn definitively whether there will be an extension of an emergency order that had slowed many landlord-tenant cases.

Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas President Judge Kim Berkeley Clark on Thursday asked the state Supreme Court to allow an extension, through Nov. 30, of pandemic-driven eviction curbs. The judge had allowed district judges to postpone decisions on eviction requests in cases in which the tenant was awaiting aid from the Emergency Rental Assistance Program. The temporary procedures, which expired Oct. 31, had not barred the eviction of tenants who did not apply for rental assistance, or whose lease terms had expired or who were accused of other violations of their leases.

The Supreme Court has not posted a decision on Clark’s request for an extension.

District Judge Richard King, president of the Allegheny County Special Court Judges, confirmed that his colleagues in the minor judiciary were processing evictions under pre-pandemic rules, pending word from the Supreme Court. But he said he saw no signs of mass displacement.

“Are there going to be some evictions? Yes. But it’s not a tidal wave,” he said. The reason? Most landlords, he said, seem to be content to wait until the Emergency Rental Assistance Program payments come through.

11/1/21: Oakland’s two registered community organizations appear split on rezoning bid

A plan to dramatically redo parts of Central Oakland and South Oakland got a tentative nod from one of the neighborhood’s two main development organizations, ahead of pending consideration by the City Planning Commission.

The Oakland Business Improvement District [OBID] issued a press release in support of commission consideration of proposed zoning changes that would clear the way for Oakland Crossings, which is developer Walnut Capital’s proposal for an 18-acre area including parts of McKee Place and Halket Street, plus an area south of the Boulevard of the Allies.

“Holistically, we believe Walnut Capital’s vision for Oakland Crossings is in line with the Oakland Plan’s community goals and that their high standards of place-making will advance our mission to enhance Oakland as one of Pennsylvania’s top global centers,” OBID board Chair Kelly McBroom said in the release.

That could pit OBID against the Oakland Planning and Development Corp. [OPDC], which has taken the position that the rezoning effort has so far circumvented traditional processes. Typically, zoning changes are first vetted by the Department of City Planning. That department is also leading an ongoing effort to plan Oakland’s future.

Map of proposed Oakland Crossings district, from legislation introduced to Pittsburgh City Council.
Map of proposed Oakland Crossings district, from legislation introduced to Pittsburgh City Council.

Both OBID and OPDC are registered community organizations for parts of Oakland. That means that when new development proposals emerge, they have the right to conduct development activities meetings, which the Planning Commission would consider prior to its vote.

The zoning legislation would allow taller and denser buildings, and a greater variety of potential uses, along McKee and Halket, which are currently dominated by rental housing. Walnut has said it wants to build some 1,000 units of housing for people who work in Oakland, a grocery store and greenspace, and the zoning would also allow for offices, labs and classrooms.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto submitted the rezoning legislation to Pittsburgh City Council, which referred it to the commission. The commission, which next meets Nov. 9, has not yet said when it will be briefed by Walnut on the plan. The briefing could be followed two weeks later by a hearing and vote. The legislation would then return to council for its vote.

October recap:

News from the City Planning Commission, Urban Redevelopment Authority, Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh and more

Takeoff imminent, destination debatable: It’s decision time on Pittsburgh’s ‘next frontier’ for redevelopment

Rubber, meet road: Will Avenues of Hope’s millions of dollars intersect with neighborhood needs?

‘Kind of empowering’: How the American Rescue Plan changed the course of the URA

‘Everybody deserves a second chance’: Even with a labor shortage, workers with criminal records face barriers to jobs

Develop PGH archives

Where the sausage is made: A nine-member panel privately plots a course for the Hill

Expect the inspector: Unlike Pittsburgh, the state’s No. 3 city examines every rental home — eventually

Hundreds of violations, few penalties: Allegheny County’s health enforcers frequently inspected — but rarely fined — two McKeesport properties

September development coverage

Rich Lord is PublicSource’s economic development reporter. He can be reached at rich@publicsource.org or on Twitter @richelord.

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Rich is a reporter and assistant editor at PublicSource. He joined the team in 2020. He reported for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from 2005 through early 2020, leading projects on child poverty, the opioid...