The Oakland of the future could be more densely developed but also greener if City Planning Commission members get their way.

The commission held a two-hour briefing on the development implications of a proposed 10-year plan for the education-and-medicine-dominated neighborhood. That discussion followed an initial briefing on March 22, when the commission also approved a planned new UPMC Presbyterian bed tower and gave a positive recommendation to the Oakland Crossings plan for development near the Boulevard of the Allies.

The full Oakland Plan follows more than two years of neighborhood engagement that included an estimated 100 meetings.

“People wanted to see a more green and livable neighborhood,” said Derek Dauphin, a planning manager for the Port Authority of Allegheny County, who worked until recently for the Department of City Planning and led the Oakland Plan process. Residents want more trees and parks, and currently “feel quite disconnected from those necessary parts of life.”

The plan also, however, contemplates more construction and higher buildings. 

“All of these things are perfectly fine,” said commission member Becky Mingo. “But how, then, is the green piece of this promoted in this plan? It’s a great thing to say we want green. … How’s that going to happen in this plan?”

Planning Department staff members noted that future developments with lot sizes of 20,000 square feet or more would be required to include green space. In addition, when a given new building would be more than twice the size of a neighbor, the development would have to include a “green buffer” of at least 15 feet between them.

“I am concerned that a 15-foot green buffer isn’t a park,” countered Mingo, during the commission’s virtual meeting conducted via Zoom. “I mean, 15 feet is the size of the bedroom I’m sitting in. Next to a 60-foot building, that’s not really a park.”

Dauphin noted that there are a number of small, largely underutilized park spaces in Oakland, but added that there was little opportunity to expand on them.

“The city doesn’t own a ton of [Oakland] property that can be converted to parks right now,” he said. It would be more practical to improve the function of the existing park spaces, he added.

The plan also calls for the crafting of a “tree strategy” for adding to the neighborhood’s canopy, said Deputy Planning Director Andrew Dash.

Commission Chair Christine Mondor asked that the department draw up a map showing the network of green spaces that could emerge from the plan.

Oakland residents who participated in a two-year planning process felt that the neighborhood could use more plant life, according to city planners. (Photo by Lucas Zheng/PublicSource)

The plan would also bring to Oakland inclusionary zoning, under which developers of new or rehabilitated housing of 20 units or more would have to rent or sell 10% of them to households of modest incomes. Inclusionary zoning has been in place in Lawrenceville since 2019, and Pittsburgh City Council is weighing whether to extend it to Bloomfield and Polish Hill.

Under the Oakland Plan, Inclusionary zoning would not cover the parts of the neighborhood zoned for educational and medical institutions, where almost all of the housing consists of dormitories. Nor would it apply in a sliver of Oakland that is part of the Uptown Public Realm.

Among many other things, the plan also calls for:

  • Provisions to encourage energy efficiency, public art, workforce development efforts and rainwater control in new developments by allowing such buildings to be higher than otherwise allowed
  • Wider sidewalks in connection with new buildings, including 20-foot widths along Fifth and Forbes avenues, 12 feet along the Boulevard of the Allies and 10 feet elsewhere
  • More amenities for children.

The department is accepting online public comments on the Oakland Plan through May 1. The commission expects to hold a public hearing, and potentially a vote on the plan and on related zoning changes, on May 17. The commission’s vote would complete the adoption of the plan, but the zoning changes would also have to be approved by Pittsburgh City Council.

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

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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...