New housing development in Bloomfield and Polish Hill would be required to include affordable units under a proposal approved by the City Planning Commission.
If also approved by Pittsburgh City Council, the measure would add those neighborhoods to an inclusionary zoning district that now consists of Lawrenceville. There, new developers who want to build 20 or more apartments or for-sale homes must ensure that 10% are affordable, for 35 years.
The two neighborhoods “are really now in the line of fire, as it were,” said Councilwoman Deb Gross, whose district includes them, as well as Lawrenceville. “They are getting overwhelmed by the speed, by the capacity and by the financing of the private market. They are some of the most overheated real estate markets in the city.”
Gross cited estimates that nearly 40% of renters in those neighborhoods are at risk of being forced out if rents continue to rise.
Under the city’s inclusionary zoning terms, affordability means that apartment 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 if they do so then the minimum number of price-controlled units rises to 12% of the total.
New Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey has indicated his support for inclusionary zoning. His budget director-designate Jake Pawlak read the commission a statement from the mayor.
“Strong, equitable development policy is necessary to prevent displacement of low-income residents,” Gainey said in the statement. “We can’t push people out and say we’re growing our economy.”
Pawlak said the administration wants to work toward citywide inclusionary zoning.
Neighborhood advocates from Bloomfield, Polish Hill and Lawrenceville all spoke in favor of the expansion. The commission voted unanimously in support of the expansion.
Underscoring inclusionary zoning’s effects, the commission also approved a plan to convert the Holy Family Church campus in Central Lawrenceville into 21 townhouses and 24 condominiums, including five that would be affordable.
The condos are to be within the church’s shell. The townhouses will replace the school and residence, which will be razed, according to the plan by E Properties & Development. The commission set a condition that the developer work toward a plan that would spread the five affordable units among the townhouses and condos.
Up next: East Liberty and Bloomfield developments, then Oakland Crossings
The commission also heard initial briefings on two impending developments, both of which would involve some affordable rental units.
McKnight Realty Partners wants to demolish a one-story structure near the corner of Penn and Highland Avenues, in East Liberty, and build a six-story retail-and-apartment building. Cantilevered over the Kelly Strayhorn Theater, the May Sterns Residential Development would consist of ground level stores and around 38 apartments, including four that would be affordable to lower-income households.
Commissioner Becky Mingo noted the “flat” appearance of the facade. “If I were walking from Friendship, got a juice and then walked along on my way, wanted to stop and get a coffee and croissant, I would sort of slide along this facade, and say, ‘It’s so hard,’ and not really want to go into that retail space,” she said.
The project architect Ryan Indovina countered that the wide sidewalks and street trees “are going to create a very unique condition on Penn Avenue. … It becomes almost like a Parisian boulevard, not to go that far.”
The commission is expected to hold a hearing and vote on whether to approve the design on Jan. 25.
The commission is also expected to decide then whether to approve a zoning change for a small parcel in Bloomfield on which an unoccupied house sits. Echo Realty wants to make the parcel part of the site of a new, 28,000-square-foot Giant Eagle store, plus 190 apartments, envisioned for a two-acre plot near the end of the Bloomfield Bridge. Phil Bishop, vice president of Echo Realty, said 10% of the apartments would be affordable.
The commission has postponed, until Feb. 8, a hearing and vote on the Oakland Crossings proposal advanced by Walnut Capital. Gainey requested the delay to allow time for conversations involving community and student groups, housing justice advocates and the developer. Commission Chair Christine Mondor listed 30 letters that the panel has already received in relation to that proposal to rezone 18 acres of Central Oakland and South Oakland to allow for more dense, high and varied uses on both sides of the Boulevard of the Allies.
Rich Lord is PublicSource’s economic development reporter. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @richelord.
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