Planning Commission: Developer pitches office building plan for Strip District

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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)

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.

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.

Past planning
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June 4
May 21
May 7
April 23
April 9
March 26

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.

“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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