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Plans are moving forward to develop the former ShurSave site at 4401 Liberty Ave. in Bloomfield. O’Hara-based Echo Realty plans to build a Giant Eagle, 248 rental units, 10,000 square feet of retail space and an outdoor plaza.
The grocery store would be built along Howley Street with five stories of apartments above it and retail shops near Ella Street with another four stories of apartments above them.
The Bloomfield Development Corporation and Echo Realty presented plans to develop the site at two community meetings held at the West Penn Hospital School of Nursing on July 11 and 15. About 140 people attended in person; the event was also live-streamed on Facebook.
The proposed five-to-six-story complex is set to go to the Pittsburgh Zoning Board of Adjustment for a hearing on Aug. 10. Among the four variances requested is one that is needed to build six stories whereas the current site is only zoned for three stories.
All parking would be located behind, under or inside the buildings. Commercial parking is planned for Howley Street with residential parking on Ella Street. The proposal includes 199 underground spaces and 119 spaces on the first floor and mezzanine level.
The site has had a long history of proposed developments.
In 2018, Milhaus proposed an apartment complex on the site, which sparked widespread community opposition and questions about housing affordability. Milhaus dropped the bid in late 2018.
In 2019, the Bloomfield Development Corporation and Action Housing developed the Bloomfield Central Gateway Development Guidelines in response to the proposed development. Based on a number of workshops and in consultation with the design firm Studio for Spatial Practice, a number of guidelines were created for future developments.
“We came away with a set of recommendations for the property, including what people didn’t want to see on the property, like surface parking,” says Christina Howell, executive director of the Bloomfield Development Corporation.
In 2020, Echo Realty purchased the site for nearly $6 million, and ShurSave reopened as a Community Market operated by Giant Eagle. Echo’s original redevelopment proposal in 2021 was for a four-story complex with 190 apartments.
“A key component (of the new proposal) is that there’s a grocery store included,” says Sam Spearing, community development manager at Bloomfield Development Corporation. “That was a big thing for a lot of people. People have varying opinions on the actual operator of the grocery store, but at the end of the day, people are excited to see a grocery store there.”
Spearing also says the outdoor plaza is critical as part of the area’s beautification and gateway identity.
“Currently the site is mostly a surface parking lot, which makes it very easy to cross through the site,” Spearing says. “It’s very walkable, and so a lot of people walk to the grocery store. (Echo) has both north-south and west-east pedestrian routes that cross through the site.”
The affordability of apartments was also a top concern for Bloomfield residents, according to Spearing and Howell.
About 10% of the units are required to be affordable to people making 50% or less of the area median income as part of the city’s inclusionary zoning, which was expanded to include Bloomfield last year. Plans are for a mix of studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments.
Questions were also raised at the meetings about housing choice vouchers. Philip Bishop, vice president of Echo Realty, said he would encourage a prospective operator of the housing development to accept vouchers.
Massing, which considers the three-dimensional spacing and shape of the complex as it coordinates with the rest of Bloomfield, is also a critical consideration, Spearing indicates.
“(Echo) tried to make the massing contextual to the neighborhood streets,” Spearing says. “They looked at the tall, bigger windows and brick arcades along Liberty Avenue that break up the flow a little bit more. They looked at the more residential facades along Gangwish and Ella and tried to match those.”
There are also plans to add street trees and preserve and improve bus stops.
“The bus stops are relatively well-used, particularly Ella and Liberty,” Spearing adds. “It’s at the intersection of several bus routes, so people will stand at that corner and whichever bus gets there first is the one they’ll jump on to get to Downtown.”
If the Zoning Board of Adjustment grants approval, the proposal would move to the city’s Planning Commission. Demolition could begin in 2024 if all approvals are met.
Ethan Woodfill is a freelance journalist interested in telling the stories of people doing great things to build community and sustainability.
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