Planning Commission: Manchester-Chateau neighborhood plan to lay out next decade’s development goals

City planners expect to present a spate of neighborhood-oriented plans this fall to guide new development in neighborhoods across the city.

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A rendering of potential development patterns from the Manchester-Chateau neighborhood plan. (Image from the Planning Commission)

A rendering of potential development patterns from the Manchester-Chateau plan. (Image from the Planning Commission)

As part of Develop PGH, PublicSource will report here about notable actions and conversations from the meetings of the City of Pittsburgh’s Planning Commission. The meetings are held at 2 p.m. on every other Tuesday on the 1st floor of the Civic Building at 200 Ross Street. Agendas and meeting minutes can be found here

Past planning
commission recaps
July 16
July 2
June 18
June 4
May 21
May 7
April 23
April 9
March 26

Manchester-Chateau in the North Side could become the latest area of Pittsburgh to have a city-approved neighborhood plan that guides new development, transportation and public infrastructure projects over the next 10 years.

Staff from Pittsburgh’s Department of City Planning presented details of the plan on Tuesday to the Planning Commission. A vote is expected after the commission’s August recess.

After two years of planning and public meetings to gather input from Manchester-Chateau residents, city planners identified 25 development goals for the next decade. Those goals include improving access to transit and the riverfront, increasing accessibility to other neighborhoods and increasing affordable housing and variation of residential zoning.

Tuesday’s presentation noted that the elevated Route 65 highway cuts off residents and development in Chateau along the Ohio River from Manchester and the greater North Side. Planners presented two rough schematics to solve the issue: bringing the road down to street level or creating a large pedestrian-friendly space under the highway.

Commissioner Sabina Deitrick pushed back on the second option.

“The long-term vision for this neighborhood is an at-grade boulevard road,” she said, referring to the first option. “It doesn’t mean the long term’s ever going to happen, but that’s really the vision. This isn’t new, this is now not revolutionary, this is becoming a norm in planning as we recognize problems and mistakes we did from 50 years ago. It’s a half-century later, so let’s get to it.”

Acting Interim Director of the Department of City Planning Andrew Dash said the department intends to present similar neighborhood plans this year for Homewood, Hazelwood, Oakland and the Hill District.

In 2017, commissioners approved a neighborhood plan for Uptown and West Oakland, a component of the EcoInnovation District that city planners developed through a grant from the Federal Transit Administration. That plan is the only one to be approved by the commission so far.

The neighborhood plans are also part of a larger effort by the department to move forward on a citywide comprehensive plan, Dash said, which would establish guidelines for development throughout Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh is not required by state law to make such a plan. Elsewhere in the country, for example in Washington and Oregon, states have strict requirements that municipalities develop and update comprehensive plans that account for new development and growth.

Pittsburgh has not had a comprehensive plan in place since the 1960s, Dash said.

“Now that [Pittsburgh is] starting to change, and now that we’re seeing that the decline has stabilized and we’re seeing growth in the city, you can see that we’re nearing the time to be working on a strategy for growth,” he said after the presentation.

In other business, commissioners pushed back on a plan from property owner Michael Troiani to demolish a set of brick buildings on the corner of Market Street and First Avenue that date as far back as the Reconstruction era. The demolition would make way for an office tower.

Troiani and his development team said the buildings, one of which formerly housed Froggy’s bar, contained no architectural characteristics worth preserving and that a new office building would offer a connection from the First Side National Historic District to the rest of Downtown.

Commission Chair Christine Mondor asked that Troiani craft a new development plan that incorporates the old building facades that she said existed in city records as far back as 1872. She pointed to redevelopment projects on the 800 block of Penn Avenue that incorporated older structures.

The set of 19th-century-era buildings on Market Street owner Michael Troiani woud like demolish to make way for a new office tower.(Image from the Planning Commission)

The set of 19th-century-era buildings on Market Street that owner Michael Troiani would like to demolish to make way for a new office tower. (Image from the Planning Commission)

“I kind of feel like you’re sitting on something that could be an asset to your market,” Mondor said.

The Planning Commission also unanimously approved a renovation of the Carnegie Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped on Baum Boulevard. The plan includes a new facade and windows and interior improvements to the building that once housed a small Studebaker assembly plant.

Matthew Plecity, an architect at Pittsburgh-based GBBN, said the renovations will cost about $2 million.

The comissionners also unanimously approved changes to Carnegie Mellon University’s Institutional Master Plan to allow for a new Scaife Hall. A 120,000-square-foot structure is slated to replace the smaller Scaife Hall at the southwestern edge of the CMU campus.

The City of Pittsburgh requires major institutions with large campuses, primarily hospitals and universities, to adhere to a master plan that dictates development.

Tom Lisi is PublicSource's Develop PGH reporter. You can reach him at 412-368-6480 or by email at tom@publicsource.org.

Develop PGH has been made possible with funding from The Heinz Endowments.

A recap of the July 16, 2019 meeting of the Planning Commission:

Members of Pittsburgh’s Planning Commission relented on a “landmark” Strip District project, giving developers a green light to move forward on a pair of buildings that will bring new retail and high-end office space to the historic neighborhood.

Two weeks ago, commissioners voted to delay the approval of the project, saying the designs didn’t fit in with the aesthetic of other buildings in the neighborhood. The project is set to be built on the corner of 21st and Smallman streets and 22nd and Smallman streets. The first of the two buildings is adjacent to both the Produce Terminal and St. Stanislaus Kostka Church. 

The approval, however, came with a couple of conditions for Rugby Realty, which owns and is developing the site. They had to pledge to continue to work with city planning staff to improve the facade of the first building and the parking garage that will run along Railroad Street. Developers also have to submit a plan to the city on how large trucks will enter and exit 22nd Street, in between the two buildings where the loading docks will be located. 

The primary issue was the main building’s “glass curtain” facade. Originally five large glass panels that curved from Smallman Street around to 21st Street, designers reimagined that element as five glass columns that took the Produce Terminal’s architecture as inspiration. Just as the Produce Terminal has periodic vertical columns along its length — with series of three windows in between — designers broke up the glass curtain so five parts of it would stand out as columns with periodic indentations. The five glass columns are each three windows wide, just like the Produce Terminal. Designers also set the two buildings back farther from the street to open up the street-level view down Smallman Street. 

A developer rendering of a new office-and-retail building, looking to the corner of Smallman and 21st Streets.

The original designs of a new office-and-retail building, looking to the corner of Smallman and 21st Streets. (Image from the Planning Commission)

Amended designs of a new office-and-retail building, looking to the corner of Smallman and 21st Streets. (Image from the Planning Commission)

Commissioners at Tuesday’s meeting seemed more satisfied with the glass curtain facade than they did two weeks ago, with commission chair Christine Mondor calling the developer’s changes “substantially deep.” Commissioner Sabina Dietrick, however, continued to criticize the parking garage along Railroad Street. She and Commissioner Fred Brown abstained from voting on the project; it passed 7-0.

“It really has the feeling of a wall,” Dietrick said about the parking garage. She said two weeks ago that she would like to see something that fits in better with the other new storefronts and buildings along the block. In the revised plans, developers had set the garage back farther from the street, changed the color of the brick from gray to yellow, added a column to open up the garage to the outside and added greenery. Dietrick didn’t seem satisfied with the changes. 

“The trees are there literally to cover up that it's kind of an ugly parking garage,” she said. 

Larry Walsh, principal and chief operating officer for Rugby Realty, conceded that the parking garage wasn’t easy to design. 

“We felt like adding the ivy wall, the green wall, that setting it back, stepping it in, making it have a column-like feel, like the building does, would help make [that concern] go away...but it is a garage,” he said. “I think we'll lean on [Planning Commission staff] to help us come up with some of these ideas.” 

Despite the criticism, Walsh was undeterred and appreciative of the Planning Commission’s feedback. 

“We've made substantive changes more than a few times along the way, and each time we do, like what's taken place in the last two weeks, we think that the project has gotten better,” he said. “So, an opportunity to continue to work with the planning staff can only result in it getting even better and, for that, we're excited.” 

At Tuesday’s meeting, the city’s Director of Planning, Ray Gastil, also gave his final Director’s Report to the commissioners. Gastil is leaving the post this summer for a job at Carnegie Mellon University. 

He said Pittsburgh is facing many of the same questions about how to forge its future that it did more than a century ago, primarily about responsible growth, opportunity for residents and sustainability. Questions related to equity and climate change are also among the city’s priorities now and at the top of the list for the city’s planning department. 

“It's no accident that a presidential candidate proposed a Pittsburgh summit, in addition to the Paris Agreement, at a debate before millions of Americans,” Gastil said, referencing a statement made last month by Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and a Democratic presidential candidate. 

To Gastil, the city’s planning department is well positioned to take on the challenges that face it. 

City Planning director Ray Gastil addresses Homewood residents as part of an event unveiling the Homewood Comprehensive Community Plan. (Photo by Heather Mull/PublicSource)

“City planning has the team, the commitment, the partners and the leadership to carry this work forward,” he said. “There are always challenges but when I list for you the work that is coming and what you will be reviewing, evaluating and moving forward in 2019, 2020 and beyond I think that you will be convinced as I am that the state of city planning in Pittsburgh is sound and getting sounder.” 

Andrew Dash will serve as interim planning director after Gastil’s departure. The city plans to fill the post by the end of the year, he said. 

Gastil also touted some accomplishments that he’s overseen, including making city planning data more accessible and implementing processes to develop community and neighborhood plans. City leaders and members of the Homewood community recently announced plans for a “comprehensive community plan” that seeks to reimagine and codify how development in the neighborhood will happen. Gastil said similar plans are coming for more city neighborhoods, including Hazelwood, Oakland, Manchester-Chateau and the Hill District. He also highlighted the city’s focus on affordable housing and its creation of the Affordable Housing Trust Fund.  

The commissioners gave approval to plans to redo the glass facade of PNC’s Two PNC Plaza, which will replace the dark glass panels with lighter, more energy-efficient panels. They also approved facade changes to the Penn Avenue side of 120 Fifth Ave., which houses Highmark. Heinz Field also won approval to hang a sign reading “Bud Light Pub 33” above its outdoor eatery of that name. 

Planning commissioners also heard a briefing from designer Phyllis Kim on proposed changes to Carnegie Library’s Library for the Blind & Physically Handicapped along Baum Boulevard. The designs Kim presented would shift the main entrance to the corner of Baum Boulevard and Enfield Street; replace the building’s windows, some of which are currently filled in; and enliven the facade with red elements and an awning over the new entrance. The building’s interior would also be redesigned with red elements, reading booths with adjustable lights and flooring that would make it easier for customers who are visually impaired to navigate the library without assistance. New windows would also feature images of Braille letters spelling out the word “library.” 

A rendering of new designs for Carnegie Library's Library for the Blind & Physically Handicapped. (Image courtesy of the Planning Commission)

One of the main purposes of the redesign is to make the library more visible to the public as pedestrians and drivers pass it on Baum Boulevard. As it is now, Kim said you hardly know you’re passing a library. She said the designs are intended to “create transparency [and] activate that space so people know there's activity inside.” Those designs will be up for a vote in two weeks.

J. Dale Shoemaker is PublicSource's government and data reporter. You can reach him at 412-515-0060 or by email at dale@publicsource.org. You can follow him on Twitter at @JDale_Shoemaker. He can be reached securely via PGP: bit.ly/2ig07qL

Develop PGH has been made possible with funding from The Heinz Endowments.

A recap of the July 2, 2019 meeting of the Planning Commission:

Members of Pittsburgh’s Planning Commission on Tuesday delayed approval of a ‘landmark’ Strip District development, saying the development’s designs didn’t fit in with the rest of the neighborhood.

The development, called Brickworks, would be two seven-story buildings consisting of glass and brick of various colors at the corner of Smallman and 21st streets. The buildings, including retail and office space, would be directly across 21st Street from the Produce Terminal and across Smallman from the St. Stanislaus church.

After more than an hour of presentation and discussions, planning commissioners voted unanimously to send the developers back to work. The commission asked the developers to address their concerns that the project doesn’t fit well with other historic buildings in the area and doesn’t pay homage to its surroundings. Unless the developers notify the Planning Commission beforehand that they need more time, the project is expected to be back on the table for a final vote in two weeks.

Commissioner Rachel O’Neill said the project didn’t mesh with St. Stanislaus church, the Produce Terminal or the Cork Factory that’s also nearby.

“This is a large project, as you said it's going to be a landmark project, so it kind of has to relate to everything else,” she said. “I don't see the relationship and context there.”

Commissioner LaShawn Burton-Falk agreed and said she and other commissioners didn’t want to scrap the project but instead adjust it.

“We're looking for something that looks like what's already there,” she said. “We want to work with you, we're saying, ‘Hey, it's gotta blend a little, it's gotta feel a little more like the Strip.’”

Responding to the Planning Commission’s criticism, Michael Goldstrom, the vice president for real estate development at Al. Neyer, said it was “unfortunate” that the plans didn’t earn approval on Tuesday.

“We'll work to make adjustments to our design to appease their concerns and hopefully we'll get approval our next time,” he said. He added that the design team would meet and determine what changes to make but that they wouldn’t consider “wholesale changes to the overall design of the building” but rather “come up with an appropriate revision.”

The project, as currently designed, would have one building with red brick in the front and a glass facade with a gray brick parking garage in the back. The second building would be similar but would be largely yellow brick in the front, along with a gray brick parking garage in the back. The back of the buildings would be glass as well, designs show.

Developers said the lower levels of the buildings would be retail space for restaurants, coffee shops and other businesses. The upper levels would be high-end office space available for lease.

Commissioner Sabina Dietrick in particular took issue with the materials the designers brought to the meeting to show commissioners. She commented that the glass walls didn’t mesh with the name Brickworks and that the gray brick parking garages didn’t “add any animation” to Railroad Street, which it borders.

“I think it looks really odd, actually, given that your opening was more about the red bricks,” she told the developers at the meeting.

The owner of the lot is Secaucus, New Jersey-based Rugby Realty; the broker is Pittsburgh-based CBRE; and the architect and design team consists of the locally based Gateway Engineers, Inc., Desmone Architects, Al. Neyer and Neyer Architects Inc.

The back of the two-building development as see from across the Allegheny River. The back of the buildings will be made of glass with parking garages made of gray brick. (Image courtesy of the Planning Commission)

The back of the two-building development as see from across the Allegheny River. The back of the buildings will be made of glass with parking garages made of gray brick. (Image courtesy of the Planning Commission)

The developers hope to break ground by the end of 2019 or early 2020 and estimate the total project cost could be between $75 million and $90 million, Goldstrom said.

Despite Tuesday’s setback, the developers’ team said it didn’t mean they’d have to redo the entire project.

“This wouldn't be back to the drawing board, this is just addressing the main bullet point concerns...for items they wanted us to focus on and discuss,” said Ryan Wotus, an attorney for the developers with Goldberg, Kamin & Garvin LLP.

In other news, PNC’s Two PNC Plaza is getting a makeover. In the near future, developers will replace each pane of the all-glass outer wall of the building with clear glass panes. Currently, each pane is tinted to protect those inside from direct sunlight and the heat that comes with it.

Architect Nick Doichev, who spoke before the Planning Commission about the project, said tinted glass is an outdated technology and that PNC wants more natural light in the building. New technology allows clear glass panes to protect against direct sunlight and still be energy efficient for the building.

The front of the two-building development. The first building will be on the corner of 21st and Smallman streets and made out of red brick with elements made of yellow brick and glass. The second building will be on the corner of 22nd and Smallman streets and be made of yellow brick and glass.

The front of the two-building development. The first building will be on the corner of 21st and Smallman streets and made out of red brick with elements made of yellow brick and glass. The second building will be on the corner of 22nd and Smallman streets and be made of yellow brick and glass. (Image courtesy of the Planning Commission)

Planning Commissioner Rachel O’Neill asked Doichev to come back with more information about how energy efficient the new glass panes will be when commissioners vote on the project in two weeks. The project will involve replacing each glass pane and the caps that hold them in place but proposes no structural changes.

Doichev also said that due to age, some of the panes are “failing” and need to be replaced anyway, though he said pedestrians below are not at risk of having a pane fall on them. The project will cost $10 million but Doichev didn’t have a timeframe for when work would begin and wrap up.

Also at the meeting, developers for Highmark presented plans to renovate the facade of Fifth Avenue Place Downtown. The Planning Commission will vote on those plans in two weeks.

J. Dale Shoemaker is PublicSource's government and data reporter. You can reach him at 412-515-0060 or by email at dale@publicsource.org. You can follow him on Twitter at @JDale_Shoemaker. He can be reached securely via PGP: bit.ly/2ig07qL

Develop PGH has been made possible with funding from The Heinz Endowments.

A recap of the June 18, 2019 meeting of the Planning Commission:

Right next to the Produce Terminal, New Jersey-based developer Rugby Realty is planning a two-phase office and parking garage project on Smallman Street and 21st Street. The company showed Pittsburgh’s Planning Commission its plan for the project’s first phase. In all, the project will include a pair of seven-story office buildings with at least five retail spaces on the ground floor. Rugby estimates that the first phase will cost $39 million. That includes more than 450 parking spaces. Commissioners will vote on the project in their next meeting on July 2.

The development team adapted its plan based on feedback from city planners and Strip District community groups, said Mike Goldstrom, vice president of real estate development at Cincinnati-based AL Neyer, which is overseeing the design and construction.

A developer rendering of a new office-and-retail building, looking to the corner of Smallman and 21st Streets.

A developer rendering of a new office-and-retail building, looking to the corner of Smallman and 21st Streets. (Image from the Planning Commission)

“We’ve really evolved the design to something that we think is ready for development and will add life to this very, very important corner of 21st and Smallman,” Goldstrom said.

The development plans include an alleyway between the proposed buildings where 22nd Street once extended out to Railroad Street. The alley would provide access to the loading docks of the buildings, along with limited pedestrian access. Commissioners said they wanted to see a revision to the plan to more clearly show where pedestrians should walk.

Carnegie Mellon University is asking the commission for a zoning change and an amendment to its Institutional Master Plan [IMP], to build a new 120,000-square-foot engineering building on Frew Street. The structure would replace the smaller Scaife Hall, at the southwestern edge of the CMU campus.

The City of Pittsburgh requires major institutions with large campuses, primarily hospitals and universities, to adhere to a master plant that dictates what development is allowed by a large institution on its land. CMU’s current IMP only allows for a connecting structure between Scaife and Roberts Halls.

The university’s new plan also include retail or restaurant space on the ground floor. There are no design plans for the building yet. Commissioners will vote July 2 on whether to amend the master plan.

A developer represented by Ryan England of Pittsburgh-based architecture firm citySTUDIO proposed renovation plans for a building on Craig Street, south of the Bloomfield Bridge. The $1 million project would convert the vacant building into 12 loft apartments, a ground-floor gym and children’s play area.

The commissioners approved a plan from the Urban Redevelopment Authority for a $1.5 public plaza renovation in East Liberty. The plaza sits at the corner of Broad Street and North Highland Avenue on about one-third of an acre, near Hotel Indigo. The plaza will feature a space for outdoor cafe seating and a new landscaping design.

Tom Lisi is PublicSource's Develop PGH reporter. You can reach him at 412-368-6480 or by email at tom@publicsource.org.

Develop PGH has been made possible with funding from The Heinz Endowments.

A recap of the June 4, 2019 meeting of the Planning Commission:

Pittsburgh’s Planning Commission on Tuesday heard a presentation from the Urban Redevelopment Authority [URA] for the renovation of a public plaza in East Liberty’s business district.

The plaza sits at the corner of Broad Street and North Highland Avenue on about one-third of an acre, near Hotel Indigo. Planners for the URA said the plaza will be redeveloped into a community space where bikes and food trucks could park and passersby could see musicians or small groups perform. The URA describes the plaza as being similar to Market Square in Downtown, with parts of the plaza flush with surrounding streets.

“Our goal is to develop it into a public amenity that will benefit residents, new and existing businesses and visitors,” said Joseph German, an architect at the URA. “We envision the plaza as a venue for public art, performance, public gatherings and casual everyday use.”

The URA owns the land and will foot the bill for the $1.63 million project. If approved, the renovation is expected to be completed in early 2020. The URA plans to transfer ownership to the city when renovations are complete.

Designs for the renovation feature new tree planters, walkways, benches, bike racks and overhead string lights. Part of the plaza will also be electrically wired to support live music and other performances.

Dina Klavon, head of Klavon Design Associates, said East Liberty community members supported the project. The firm drew up the plans for the URA, and Klavon cited two community meeting that planners and the URA held last fall.

“What we heard from the community is that what they really wanted was a celebratory space, a place that's accessible for all and for it to be safe and flexible for programming,” Klavon told the commission.

Plans for a plaza renovation at Broad Street and North Highland Avenue in East Liberty. (Image from the Planning Commission)

The project would widen Broad Street, Klavon said. Plans for the project note that traffic on Broad Street would continue flowing one-way, but the road would be wide enough to allow for two lanes of traffic and bikes. That configuration would allow food trucks to park along Broad Street and service those visiting the plaza, according to the plan.

Commissioner Becky Mingo questioned how the renovation would fit into the broader design context of that section of East Liberty. She also asked if buses and other large vehicles visiting Hotel Indigo could still park along Broad Street. Klavon said she didn’t think the design would keep large vehicles from parking in the area, though the design wouldn’t allow them to park at the edge of the plaza.

After additional discussion, Planning Commission chair Christine Mondor said that she thought the renovation plans would solve problems with the existing plaza.

“That plaza's a hot mess right now, and so it's just confusing in every sense, in the streetscape, in the planters and in the trees,” Mondor said. “I think [the] design is elegant and minimal and opens up...so, I think it's going to invite people in.”

In other business, the commission approved plans for Wabtec, a transit manufacturing company, to hang a 6-foot-by-28-foot sign on the front of its office building near PNC Park on North Side. The sign will face southeast and will be visible from Downtown bridges, office buildings and hotels. The sign will feature the name “Wabtec” and the company’s red swirl logo. Commissioners approved the plan unanimously.

More information on both projects can be viewed here.

J. Dale Shoemaker is PublicSource's government and data reporter. You can reach him at 412-515-0060 or by email at dale@publicsource.org. You can follow him on Twitter at @JDale_Shoemaker. He can be reached securely via PGP: bit.ly/2ig07qL

Develop PGH has been made possible with funding from The Heinz Endowments.

A recap of the May 21, 2019 meeting of the Planning Commission:

Pittsburgh’s Planning Commission gave the green light May 21 for plans to demolish the former Oakland home of the Pittsburgh Playhouse as well as to construct a new nine-story office building in the Strip District.

The Pittsburgh Playhouse demolition is expected to take three months with work beginning in June, according to architects overseeing the project for Point Park University.

The building, part of which once operated as a German social club, housed the first iteration of the Pittsburgh Playhouse starting in 1934. A portion of the property was originally occupied by Tree of Life Synagogue, which moved to Squirrel Hill in 1952.

Point Park plans to sell the lot after the demolition.

Shawn Gallagher, an attorney at Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney representing Point Park, said the university planned to use the proceeds to pay for the new $60 million Pittsburgh Playhouse. The Forbes Avenue theater located Downtown opened in October.

In other business, the commission approved a plan from Bridgeville-based developer RDC Star for a new building featuring office space, retail and a parking garage.

The developer hopes to draw a technology company to the office space and bills the 5,000 square feet of retail space on Smallman Street as a potential location for a restaurant or coffee shop.

A rendering of a nine-story office building that looks at the back of the development from the vantage point of Waterfront Place and 14th Street in the Strip District. (Image from the Planning Commission)

The retail space abuts a small open-air space open to the public, according to design plans from Pittsburgh-based architecture firm AE7.

The development will replace a surface parking lot on the corner of Smallman and 15th streets. A three-story parking garage will adjoin the west side of the building and a small surface parking lot would open to the public after work hours and on weekends.

The parking garage and the surface lot will include 376 spaces. Any spaces not used by tenants will be available to the public, according to the plan. The land is owned by Pittsburgh-based Buncher Company.

Tom Lisi is PublicSource's Develop PGH reporter. You can reach him at 412-368-6480 or by email at tom@publicsource.org.

Develop PGH has been made possible with funding from The Heinz Endowments.

A recap of the May 7, 2019 meeting of the Planning Commission:

Point Park University officials presented plans on May 7 to tear down the old Pittsburgh Playhouse, a move announced in March. The university opened up a new theater in August on Forbes Avenue Downtown.

In a presentation to the Pittsburgh Planning Commission, two representatives involved in the project pointed to a laundry list of issues with the building at 222 Craft Ave. in Oakland, including a roof and electrical system in need of replacement.

The building, part of which once operated as a German social club, housed the first iteration of the Pittsburgh Playhouse starting in 1934.

After the Tuesday presentation, Shawn Gallagher, an attorney at Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney representing Point Park, said the university was actively marketing the property for sale.

The architects expect the demolition to start in June and take three months. Commissioners will hear public comment on the plan and vote on it May 21.

Strip District

Also at Tuesday’s meeting, Bridgeville-based developer RDC Star and its engineering and architecture partners presented the latest plans for a nine-story office building in the Strip District at the intersection of Smallman and 15th streets, adjacent to the Veterans Bridge.

Shawn Fox, a principal at RDC Star, said they expect to attract tech firms to the 215,000-square-foot office space, continuing the buildout of the Strip District into a hub for tech companies.

The plan also calls for a total of 110 spaces for bicycles. Fox said RDC is interested in businesses on the ground floor that focus on bicycling, fitness and coffee.

“We really see this location, with it being flat in Pittsburgh, as a great place for bicycle operations,” Fox said.

A three-story parking garage would adjoin the west side of the building and a small surface parking lot would open to the public after work hours and on weekends. The parking garage and the surface lot would include 376 spaces. Any spaces not used by tenants would be available to the public. The project also calls for 21,000 square feet of retail space and a 5,000-square-foot restaurant space on the ground floor.

A vote on the plan will be held at the commission’s May 21 meeting.

Mount Washington

The Planning Commission approved plans for major interior and exterior updates to the Mount Washington branch of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh on Grandview Avenue. The plan is the last part of a major capital campaign undertaken by the library system.

The plan includes a 2,540-square-foot addition to the circa-1900 building designed by the famed architecture firm Alden & Harlow. The new space will make way for new programming spaces, like a teen space, that have already taken shape at other locations.

The project will also add a wheelchair-accessible entrance and new mechanical systems, as well as a new color scheme to the exterior.

“The existing color scheme for the building is rather institutional looking,” said Sergei Matveiev, principal at the Pittsburgh-based elagin architecture. “We’re going to go with some earth tones to try to make a little bit softer” and more in line with the look of the neighborhood.

Pittsburgh Technology Center

Also on Tuesday, Elmhurst Group got the go-ahead from commissioners on its final development plan for an 85,000-square-foot complex spread across 4 acres at the Pittsburgh Technology Center in Oakland. The site on Technology Drive will cater to companies working in advanced robotics and artificial intelligence.

Tom Lisi is PublicSource's Develop PGH reporter. You can reach him at 412-368-6480 or by email at tom@publicsource.org.

Develop PGH has been made possible with funding from The Heinz Endowments.

A recap of the April 23, 2019 meeting of the Planning Commission:

The Pittsburgh Planning Commission unanimously voted April 23 to recommend that City Council approve an inclusionary zoning ordinance for Lawrenceville.

The commission’s recommendation came after some three hours of public comments from roughly 40 residents, most of whom were supporters of the proposed ordinance intended to increase economic diversity and affordable housing in Lawrenceville.

“I don’t want my neighborhood to turn into a gated community for the upper 10 percent,” said Nancy Gippert, a Lawrenceville homeowner.

Skeptics of inclusionary zoning say the proposal will be ineffective at generating affordable housing and could stifle growth in Lawrenceville. Property owners who responded to a notice about the meeting from city planners were fairly evenly split between supporting and opposing, though more voiced opposition.

If passed by council, the ordinance would create new requirements for developers in Lawrenceville working on projects with 20 housing units or more. They would need to reserve at least 10 percent of new or substantially rehabilitated units for renters who make no more than 50 percent of the area median income [AMI].

The proposal would also allow for deed restrictions on single-family homes to ensure that a home previously occupied by a moderate-income family will be sold at a below-market price to another moderate-income family.

City Planning officials sent out a notice of the Tuesday planning commission hearing in March to Lawrenceville property owners. Of those who responded, 183 property owners said they opposed the proposal and 168 said they supported.

One respondent wrote that the proposal would turn Lawrenceville “back to a blighted community again.”

Public comments at Tuesday’s hearing were not restricted to property owners.

“I’m one of the working-class people you’re talking about today,” said Lawrenceville resident Rhonda Gethers. She said she lost her job in 2015 and couldn’t find affordable housing in the neighborhood for four years. “People just want to live and stay in the communities where they grew up.”

Many supporters at the meeting were homeowners who did not grow up in the neighborhood and have seen their home values increase dramatically in recent years.

“I did not move to Lawrenceville to make a profit on my house,” said Nichole Penberg, a supporter who said she bought a home in Lawrenceville in 2005. “I’m lucky — not because I have a house I can sell and make some cash — I’m lucky I got into Lawrenceville while I could still afford it.”

The proposed ordinance, introduced by Councilwoman Deb Gross in February, is one of the latest public policy efforts to address an affordable housing crisis in Pittsburgh. City planners call the proposal a pilot to test how effective it will be to require developers of large residential projects to include units to be rented below market rates.

It would apply only to Lawrenceville and would be on the books for 18 months. Council could then decide on a six-month renewal.

There were few opponents of the proposed ordinance at the Tuesday meeting. One, Pittsburgh developer Brian Schreiber, said he supported more affordable housing. But, he said, “I believe that there should be an exception for new construction where there will not be a destruction of affordable housing.”

The Affordable Housing Task Force, established in 2014 to investigate possible solutions for a decline in affordable housing, produced several recommendations to council and Mayor Bill Peduto in 2016, including an ordinance code change that would require inclusionary zoning for the entire city.

“We really feel like inclusionary zoning is the tool that will help Lawrenceville manifest its own mission for itself,” Gross told the commissioners Tuesday. “It may not be the right tool for every situation, but for Lawrenceville where it is now, this is the tool that will help them gain back affordable units.”

Below-market rental units and owner-occupied homes would remain income-restricted for at least 35 years, according to the proposed ordinance.

In their own comments, the commissioners made it known that the commenters had left an impression.

“To Deb Gross, great job, and to the community organizations,” Vice Chairwoman Lashawn Burton-Faulk said. “Just as important: the community residents that have come out and lit it on fire.”

City Planning Assistant Director Andrew Dash said after the meeting that the department will send another round of letters to Lawrenceville homeowners notifying them of the next public hearing before city council.

Council could cast the final vote on the proposed ordinance in mid-June, Dash said.

Tom Lisi is PublicSource's Develop PGH reporter. You can reach him at 412-368-6480 or by email at tom@publicsource.org.

Develop PGH has been made possible with funding from The Heinz Endowments.

A recap of the April 9, 2019 meeting of the Planning Commission:

The Pittsburgh Planning Commission prodded city planners during its April 9 meeting about possible loopholes and unintended consequences of an inclusionary zoning ordinance proposal for Lawrenceville.

The proposal, introduced in February to Pittsburgh City Council by Councilwoman Deb Gross, would apply only to Lawrenceville and would be on the books for just 18 months. Council could then decide on a six-month renewal. The planning commission will vote in two weeks on a non-binding recommendation to city council.

Andrew Dash, assistant director of strategic planning at the City Planning Department, and Andrew McCray, a housing specialist in the department, briefed the commission and answered questions, along with Director of City Planning Ray Gastil.

Commissioners said they will need more tangible examples of how the proposal could affect future rental and owner-occupied housing projects in order to be prepared for comments and questions from the public at the April 23 meeting.

“I imagine the community’s going to think this particular piece of legislation is going to solve all the [affordable housing] problems,” Commission Chair Christine Mondor said. “I think somewhere on the city website there should be a summary of Affordable Housing Task Force recommendations, where this is shown as one tool of many.”

The Affordable Housing Task Force, established in 2014 to investigate possible solutions for a decline in affordable housing, gave Mayor Bill Peduto and city council several recommendations in 2016, including the use of inclusionary zoning.

If passed, the ordinance would require developers in Lawrenceville to reserve at least 10 percent of new or rehabilitated units for households that make no more than 50 percent of the area median income [AMI], if the development projects include at least 20 housing units.

The units would remain income-restricted for 35 years, according to the proposal’s current language.

The proposed ordinance would also allow for community land trusts to utilize deed restrictions, which would allow them to sell a house at a below-market price to families making no more than 80 percent of AMI. In a future sale, that family would have to sell the home to another moderate-income family at a below-market price. That approach was something that Commissioner Becky Mingo challenged.

“I have a hard time trying to justify why I would be part of restricting the wealth accumulation of a low-income person,” Mingo said.

Gastil said the commissioners’ concerns over deed restrictions were crucial questions. The language in the proposed legislation came from recommendations from the Inclusionary Zoning Exploratory Committee, which Peduto formed with an executive order.

“But I understand your ongoing concerns,” Gastil said, “and we’ll also have a more in-depth response about the types of deed restrictions we see modeling.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, commissioners also said they wanted clearer explanations of how city staff would enforce the ordinance and apply several development restrictions meant to encourage the building of more affordable housing units in Lawrenceville.

Commissioner Sabina Deitrick said she wanted to see information on development in Lawrenceville in the last five years, including the number of projects completed and how much building is being done there now.

Mondor said the ordinance would remake how planning commissioners do their business, from a project-by-project approach to a broader view of developments in Lawrenceville. That will require more local real estate data to make decisions on projects and more front-end preparation from city staff.

“The fundamental shift in this ordinance is it takes the city from reviewing plans to doing portfolio management,” Mondor said.

Gross, who attended Tuesday’s meeting, said she thought the commissioners raised important questions, but nothing that she thought required any major changes to the proposed legislation.

“I think we’ll be able to make them more comfortable in two weeks’ time,” Gross said after the meeting.

Tuesday’s meeting did not include public comment on the proposal. Those will be part of the April 23 meeting, when commissioners vote on a recommendation. The meeting is scheduled for 2 p.m. on the 1st floor of the Civic Building at 200 Ross Street.

Tom Lisi is PublicSource's Develop PGH reporter. You can reach him at 412-368-6480 or by email at tom@publicsource.org.

Develop PGH has been made possible with funding from The Heinz Endowments.

A recap of the March 26, 2019 meeting of the Planning Commission:

South Side could see a distillery and upscale market on McKean Street and 2nd Street, adjacent to the riverfront by Station Square, according to plans presented to the Pittsburgh Planning Commission on Tuesday.

The developer, 129 McKean Street LLC, wants to return some of the building to its 20th-century use as a distillery, though no occupancy deals are in place yet. The address was once home to Joseph S. Finch & Co., the last whiskey distillery in Pittsburgh before Prohibition, according to the developer.

The building renovation is part of a $4 million development that includes a new six-story building next to the original former distillery building that the developer hopes will include retail space for the growing stock of office and residential buildings in the area.

“The Highline’s doing a ton of office, Glasshouse is doing residential, so we figure, ‘Let’s just give them amenities,’” said Bill Stolze, a partner in the McKean Street development.

The Highline is a $100-plus million development from McKnight Realty Partners modeled after the High Line in New York City. It will feature an elevated walkway and a revamped Terminal Building in Station Square with office and retail space.

The Glasshouse, a $70 million 319-unit residential development in Station Square, is set to open this year, according to Dallas-based developer, Trammell Crow Company.

“We’re hoping to provide happy hour, shopping opportunities — an entertainment destination, basically,” Stolze said.

Planning commissioners are set to vote on the project in April.

Downtowners and Pirates fans will soon see a new Pittsburgh-centric mural across the river from PNC Park to cover up a nine-story parking garage on Stanwix Street on the north end of the Golden Triangle.

City planning commissioners approved the public art proposal from the City Planning department that will feature familiar faces of Pittsburgh history.

The historical figures in the mural design include Andy Warhol, August Wilson, Rachel Carson, A. Philip Randolph and Andrew Carnegie, among others.

They will be depicted on 80-foot tall banners that will face north toward the baseball park along Fort Duquesne Boulevard and west along Stanwix Street.

Several residents from Gateway Towers, a nearby condominium, expressed concerns that the mural would not match the aesthetics of the surrounding area and that the public process did not include informing nearby residents of the proposal.

City planners said the process for such a public art project does not include taking input from residents outside the Planning Commission meetings.

Yesica Guerra, public art and civic design manager in the City Planning department, said she expects the mural to go up in May.

Tom Lisi is PublicSource's Develop PGH reporter. You can reach him at 412-368-6480 or by email at tom@publicsource.org.

Develop PGH has been made possible with funding from The Heinz Endowments.

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