About a dozen Oakland residents urged Pittsburgh City Council to postpone action on a new Oakland Plan’s proposed zoning legislation, citing concerns from affordable housing to large-scale demolition. 

After more than two years of community meetings and revisions, the City Planning Commission in June approved a 10-year plan for development and investment in Oakland. The plan would create, among other things, three new zoning districts and expand the city’s inclusionary zoning district into Oakland, requiring developers to keep a portion of new residential units at affordable prices. Council is now considering Council Bill 529, and on Monday, residents were invited to comment during a council hearing. 

While the majority of the residents did not disagree with the goals of the plan, many questioned parts of the plan and asked council to postpone its decision. But Corey Layman, the city’s zoning administrator, noted that since there have already been two postponements, the last on Nov. 14, another one could potentially lead to the whole planning process starting over. 

“Bill 529 is fraught with issues,” said Elena Zaitsoff, a member of the Oakcliffe Community Organization [OCO]. Zaitsoff asked council to postpone its vote until more work is done on the bill. 

“The OCO is not against development. But it needs to be done in a manner that is considerate of existing residents. There has been no outreach to OCO from the developers,” Zaitsoff said. “Entire residential streets should not be vulnerable to demolition.”

Developer Walnut Capital wants to reconstruct 13 acres of South and Central Oakland in its Oakland Crossings project to create denser housing for non-student residents and provide a full-service grocery store and other development. A representative of Walnut Capital asked council to table its decision on the bill, citing a need for more time to plan. 

The prospect of demolition — which is contemplated in the Oakland Crossings plan — worried some neighborhood advocates.

“I’m concerned about the impact of large-scale demolition,” said Andrea Boykowycz, interim director of the Oakland Planning and Development Corp. .

Others suggested dismissing the plan altogether. 

Millie Sass, who said she is a longtime Oakland resident, asked council not to pass the bill at all. 

“It was wrong from the start and continues to get worse,” Sass said. “The Oakland Plan should start again no matter how long that takes. Two and a half years have been wasted. We deserve a new start.”

Sass cited concerns that the plan would change the character of the area and said that the City Planning Commission failed to listen to “true residents” when passing the plan. 

Other residents were concerned that if the bill didn’t pass, Pittsburgh would miss a development opportunity.

“Pittsburgh needs to find a way to position itself in a post-COVID real estate market,” said Henry Schwartz, co-managing partner of Oakland Real Estate Co. A proposed innovation district “is a chance to bring new product to real estate. If Pittsburgh does not embrace this, other cities might fill it in.” 

Several university representatives were concerned that the plan wouldn’t allow enough mixed-use spaces for education. 

Emily Gaspitch, director of capital planning for Carlow University, said her institution was possibly interested in leasing space in Oakland. “But this would be very constricting to us,” she said. 

She asked council to eliminate the limitation on mixed-use education space completely. 

“The ordinance will have unintended consequences of stifling innovation including university projects,” said James Williams, the University of Pittsburgh’s senior director for local government relations. He said Pitt also opposes the zoning.

Council is expected to vote on the plan at a future date. 

Eric Jankiewicz is PublicSource’s economic development reporter and can be reached at ericj@publicsource.org or on Twitter @ericjankiewicz.

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Eric Jankiewicz

Eric Jankiewicz is a reporter focused on housing and economic development for PublicSource. A native New Yorker, Eric moved to Pittsburgh in 2017 and has since fallen in love with his adopted city, even...