Plans for a new Shadyside Giant Eagle, plus apartments and other retail, cleared the City Planning Commission process, suggesting that years of public process are coming to a close. Commission approval followed a briefing earlier this month and came after little public testimony, and despite concerns on the planning panel about the extent of housing affordability and the design.

Three years ago, the commission approved zoning for the site in preparation for demolition of the landmark store and new construction. But last year, the Zoning Board of Adjustment rejected developer ECHO Realty’s request for variances. The developer’s appeal to the Court of Common Pleas, and then community meetings and negotiations, resulted in a consent agreement with the city that requires the inclusion of affordable housing and commission approval of the plan.

The resulting proposal would replace the shuttered Shakespeare Giant Eagle with The Meridian, a complex including a 36,000-square-foot Giant Eagle, a three-level garage with 423 spaces, plus a row of small stores and restaurants with five stories of apartments above.

“We see it as an obviously very important site to develop,” said Tom Price, an architect with Strada who is working with ECHO Realty and housing developer Greystar on the project. He said the plan would replace surface parking with a garage, bring the retail to the street, include interior courtyards for apartment tenants and a parklet for public use.

A map of the proposed redevelopment of the former Shakespeare Giant Eagle site, submitted by ECHO Realty and Greystar to the Pittsburgh City Planning Commission on Nov. 29, 2022.

The 231 apartments — including studios, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units — will include around 35 classified as affordable. Of those, around 23 or 24 would be priced to be affordable to households earning 50% or less of area median income [AMI], and around 11 or 12 would be priced for those earning 80% of AMI.

Only one member of the general public testified before the commission. David Vatz, a resident of Squirrel Hill who said he was representing a group called Pro-Housing Pittsburgh, told the panel that rising housing costs threaten Pittsburgh’s livability. “Nearly every city in the county has seen massive increases in rents due to not building enough housing,” he said, adding that The Meridian would create units near transit, jobs, groceries and other amenities. His group strongly supports the plan, he said.

Commissioner Sabina Deitrick bemoaned the fact that some of the affordable units would not be within reach of families making significantly less than 80% of AMI. She called the 80% threshold doesn’t result in housing for truly needy families. “It’s disappointing,” she said. “You can always do a little better.”

Shawn Gallagher, a representative of Greystar, said the mix of affordable units is specified in the consent agreement and added that normally the city would not require any below-market-rate rentals in that area. Responding to a question from Deitrick, he added that the complex will receive no public subsidies.

Commissioner Becky Mingo critiqued the design, saying it “sort of looks like highway motel architecture” in places. 

A rendering of The Meridian submitted by ECHO Realty and Greystar to the Pittsburgh City Planning Commission on Nov. 29, 2022.

“It seems to me like it’s a building that could be on a highway in Denver, it could be a motel in Arkansas, that it’s not particularly designed for our place,” she said. “That said, I know that I’m not going to change it, I’m not going to influence the design at that point.”

The six commissioners in attendance all voted to recommend approval of the plan.

The plan must still win approval of city zoning staff, and the developers must work with the city’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure on accessibility and pedestrian safety issues, plus placement of the 138 bicycle parking spaces.

Rich Lord is PublicSource’s managing editor. He can be reached at rich@publicsource.org.

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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...