Jackie Smith, Ashley Cox, Dan Kubis, Rachel Brown, Adam Clark… The list read before the City of Pittsburgh Planning Commission on Tuesday afternoon included the names of almost 1,300 people who wrote letters to the commission, opposing the development plan proposed by LG Realty for the former site of Penn Plaza Apartments.
After more than four hours, the commission voted to approve design plans for the $150 million development in East Liberty.
One year following the controversial demolition of Penn Plaza and after six months of mediation between the community and developers, LG Realty presented plans to put commercial retail space, a park and several office buildings at the former site of affordable housing.
About 30 to 40 people spoke at the meeting, some of them in support of the project. A few of them took their three minutes of time at the podium to read the names of the people who submitted letters opposing the Pennley Park South Redevelopment Plan.
Some of the people at the podium acknowledged that, as property owners, LG Realty had met many of the zoning requirements but that the choice before them was not one based off of requirements alone; they said it was also a moral one.
The property is privately owned and its owners have the right to do what they will with it. A primary reason LG Realty is having to go through this process is because they seek to increase the height of their buildings beyond what current zoning allows. Though the commission approved their plans Tuesday, 4-2, LG Realty still didn't get the full height they requested.
The commission also added a requirement for a community gathering space and formalized a “resolution of concern,” asking the city to allow the commission to consider additional factors in making planning decisions, like social and environmental impacts.
Penn Plaza Support & Action, a grassroots group led by residents displaced from Penn Plaza and concerned neighbors, believes that Tuesday’s showing at the commission meeting was the “biggest demonstration of community resistance to a development project in the history of Pittsburgh.”
The group issued a statement to PublicSource after the meeting:
“The commission’s decision today clearly showed that our public process around community development is broken. ...
While the public raised concerns about the devastating social and economic impact of the displacement that preceded the development, especially on Pittsburgh’s African-American and low-to-moderate income residents, LG pushed the vote through by saying that the matter would be taken back to the courts if the Commission voted ‘no’ on the plan. Conditional promises were made during the vote to clarify and reform the public process, provide clarity on the future of the plan’s housing fund, and to report on people who were displaced from Penn Plaza Apartments. These comprise a grossly inadequate response to the public’s wishes for the site.”
Maranie Rae Staab is a photographer and journalist based in Pittsburgh, Pa. She can be reached at email@example.com.