Hazelwood Green’s development team won City Planning Commission approval for revised rules for the spacious former mill site, with more temporary parking lots than they had been allowed under a 2018 plan.

The development team, led by U3 Advisors along with consultants from New York-based Tishman Speyer, sought the commission’s OK to create as many as 5,500 surface parking spaces on the 178-acre site. That could mean as much as a quarter of the site would be asphalt, potentially for decades.

Ultimately, the developers expect that the site’s employers and residents will be served by parking garages, transit and bicycles or other alternative forms of transportation. But for now, that’s not possible, the team explained. “Parking garages are very expensive,” said Kristen Hall, an urban designer working with the developers. “We want to focus our resources on building places for people, and not for cars.”

“Do you plan on making blocks and blocks of Hazelwood Green into surface parking?” asked Commissioner Becky Mingo. Being asked to approve some 1.9 million square feet of parking lots, without knowing how they will be distributed, she said, “frightens me a little bit. … Gosh, you’re asking a lot from us.”

The developers argued that they had no incentive to create more parking than absolutely needed to serve the business and residents that they attract.

With the developers’ assent, the commission added a prohibition against parking for off-site uses, barring the creation of commuter lots with shuttle services to employers outside of Hazelwood Green. The developers also agreed to restrictions that would keep the parking away from busy streets and recreational open spaces. They also agreed to a limit of four warehouses on the site.

Most of the site is owned by Almono LP, which is controlled by the Richard King Mellon Foundation, the Heinz Endowments* and the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation. Because it is in a specially planned district, its development must be in accord with plans approved by the commission.

Hazelwood residents expressed concern about the parking plank at an Oct. 12 community meeting. But at the commission’s hearing, only one member of the general public — Hazelwood Initiative Executive Director Sonya Tilghman — spoke up. She supported the revised development rules.

All of the commissioners who were present, including Mingo, voted for two measures: amendments to the development plan and rezoning of the site. The rezoning must still go to Pittsburgh City Council for its binding approval.

The former railroad roundhouse on Hazelwood Green has been converted into a tech incubator, in what area foundations tout as just an early example of the development to come. (Photo by Rich Lord/PublicSource)
The former railroad roundhouse on Hazelwood Green has been converted into a tech incubator, in what area foundations tout as just an early example of the development to come. (Photo by Rich Lord/PublicSource)

The site currently includes the tech-heavy Mill 19 building, developed by the Regional Industrial Development Corp., and a business incubator. Last week the developers announced a $100 million investment by the R.K. Mellon Foundation in a University of Pittsburgh life sciences facility planned for the site.

Melwood apartment plan moves toward hearing

The commission also heard its initial briefing on a proposal for a 10-story North Oakland apartment building that has been opposed, in previous public processes, by neighboring property owners and by residents in nearby Polish Hill.

The Hudson Companies, based in Hermitage, wants to build The Julian on the 400 block of Melwood Avenue, close to its intersection with Baum Boulevard. In place of a two-story warehouse, Hudson would construct 148 apartments ranging from “micro units” to two-bedroom suites, and would include 127 parking spaces, mostly underground.

A rendering of The Julian, an apartment building proposed for North Oakland, submitted by developer The Hudson Companies to Pittsburgh’s City Planning Commission for a briefing on Nov. 23, 2021.

The apartments will be marketed to families, rather than college students, said Jonathan Hudson, a principal and partner with the developer.

Commission Chair Christine Mondor said she found it difficult to imagine that families would flock to the site. “There’s really no place to play” in the area, she said. “I do wish this had more of a gesture toward families.”

Hudson said he hoped that a synthetic grass courtyard of nearly 2,500 square feet, atop part of the first floor, would give children some room to run.

Endorsed by the University of Pittsburgh and by City Councilman Daniel Lavelle, the proposal has nonetheless raised community concerns.

At a Zoning Board of Adjustment [ZBA] hearing in July, Polish Hill residents said The Julian would add traffic to narrow streets, clogging one of the few arteries into their neighborhood.

Owners of neighboring properties complained that The Julian would be out of scale for the area. One of them, developer Eve Picker, said The Julian would overshadow the six-unit Luna Park apartments that she owns directly behind it and “create chaos” on Gold Way, which runs between her building and Hudson’s site.

The Hudson Companies has countered that some buildings in the area are 75 to 170 feet high, while The Julian would be 104 feet. Hudson told the commission that any traffic problems on Gold Way may be due to poor parking and other obstacles, like dumpsters, in front of nearby buildings.

The ZBA approved the developer’s request for a special exception on the site. If approved following a public hearing that likely will occur at the next commission meeting, on Dec. 7, demolition could start in January and construction in March.

Council bid for more development say gets rocky intro

Commission members panned a proposed ordinance moving through Pittsburgh City Council that would give that body more involvement in some development approvals.

The bill introduced by Councilman Ricky Burgess would compel Planning Department staff to promptly alert council to planned developments and those on lots larger than 8,000 square feet.

The council member representing the involved neighborhood could then deem the proposal to be of “significant community concern” and compel a Planning Commission approval process. Proposals voted down by the commission can only be approved with seven yes votes on the nine-member council. But under the proposed ordinance, if the commission failed to act within 60 days, the proposal would be deemed approved. It would then return to council for a hearing and majority vote. That could take as much as 210 days.

The legislation is meant primarily to add additional review to development proposals that threaten affordable housing, explained Shawn Carter, a special assistant to Burgess, in a briefing to the commission.

”The city continues to lose affordable housing units faster than new ones can be built,” he said. He added: “Rev. Burgess believes that there are times, for good or for bad, when City Council should make the final decision.”

The Planning Department requested a city Law Department review, which called the proposed ordinance “legally suspect” because it granted single council members the power to grant different regulatory treatment on a subjective basis. Planning Director Andrew Dash told the commission that a legally wobbly bill “would provide applicants an easy path to challenge determinations they don’t care for on appeal.”

Commissioner Rachel O’Neill, who is a land use attorney, said the legislation appeared likely to stretch some approval processes to nine months that can now be accomplished by staff in 30 days. She also predicted that the ordinance “will be immediately struck down” the first time it is challenged in court.

“This gets really murky — murky in the sense that I don’t know where the community’s voice sits in this,” added commission Vice Chair LaShawn Burton-Faulk.

The commission is likely to hold a hearing and nonbinding vote on Dec. 7. Council would then make the ultimate determination.

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

*PublicSource receives funding from The Heinz Endowments and has received support from The R.K. Mellon Foundation in the past.

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Rich is the managing editor of PublicSource. He joined the team in 2020, serving as a reporter focused on housing and economic development and an assistant editor. He reported for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette...