Oakland Crossings moving forward, along with two other major neighborhood projects
The Pittsburgh Planning Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to move Walnut Capital’s forward Oakland Crossings proposal. But consensus on the plan – which has already generated months of controversy, community meetings and negotiations – may be more tepid than the vote suggests.
“We don’t have enough time to review the design and we don’t have enough information,” said Commissioner Becky Mingo, frustrated at being caught between scheduling restrictions under city bylaws. and lingering concerns about the plan.
And the commission voted to attach 10 conditions to its approval before sending the legislation to the Pittsburgh City Council for action.
Among the changes was a vote to ban the use of the “college or university campus” at Oakland Crossings, which would limit the ability of schools to expand further into the neighborhood, and to add more scrutiny of building heights. close to existing residential neighborhoods – an effort to address concerns that new construction would overshadow existing homes in the area. The commission adopted a series of other conditions recommended by Department of Planning staff, which primarily bring the new zoning rules for the 13-acre development area more in line with existing regulations.
These changes follow significant revisions already made by Mayor Ed Gainey’s administration to legislation that would govern Oakland Crossings. These changes reduced the development from nearly 18 acres to 13, lowered building heights, added a commitment to affordable housing, and replaced a bespoke zoning district with a new classification called “Mixed-Use Urban Center”. The effort to negotiate such changes was an early test of his administration’s ability to chart a new approach to development that seeks to balance investment and the public interest.
On Tuesday, two people urged the Planning Commission to approve the project.
The zoning changes are critical and would kick-start Mayor Gainey’s goals of making Pittsburgh “an inclusive city that supports livelihoods, provides opportunities for current and future generations, and will expand equitable opportunities for all people who want work and live in Oakland”. said Georgia Petropoulos, who leads Oakland’s Business Improvement District. The organization has long favored the project.
Six people spoke out against the project.
Resident Mark Oleniacz said two weeks isn’t enough to play through all the ways zoning could negatively impact Oakland, and many of the perks Walnut Capital promises to provide, like a grocery store, don’t require no zoning changes. And he said the plan bypasses a three-year effort to create a community-focused “Oakland Plan” that will guide future investments in the area. A draft of that plan was released earlier this month and discussed by the committee on Tuesday.
“It’s the tail wagging dog of the Oakland plan,” Oleniacz said.
“We are not against progress or increased density: our concern is with the proposed scale,” said Elena Zaitsoff, vice president of community organization Oakcliffe. She and others are concerned that the proposed building designs, even at low heights, will detract from the character of the neighborhood.
Members of the Oakland Planning and Development Corporation, which opposed the project, raised similar concerns about the height of buildings, particularly on Halket Street.
“The Halket Street single-family homes were built in 1902 and have survived with relatively little change to the present day, creating a distinct and recognizable sense of place,” said Wanda Wilson, head of the organization. According to the proposed plan, these houses could be leveled and replaced by much taller multi-storey buildings. Wilson also objected to Walnut Capital being allowed to build college or university space in the development.
Mingo asked if the mayor’s team or the developer had any drawings to show what the new maximum heights would look like next to existing buildings, but they didn’t.
“I’m not sure we have enough information here to be able to make a decision,” she said, noting that it’s quite common during a zoning discussion to look at the surrounding area for more consistency.
These concerns, along with questions about the process — which have obsessed Oakland Crossings ever since former mayor Bill Peduto introduced legislation to advancing development last fall – nearly ended the Oakland Crossings plan on Tuesday. Commissioner Holly Dick moved a motion to defer a vote until the committee has voted on adoption map of oakland and its zoning recommendations.
In four chapters, the plan covers everything from investments in community and recreational spaces to expanding affordable housing needs and, most importantly, zoning changes.
In two weeks, members will hear a presentation on the development chapter of the plan, as well as changes to the zoning of the neighborhood. The whole plan, and these changes, will be put to a vote on May 17.
In the meantime, Oakland Crossing legislation will now go to the Pittsburgh City Council. City Councilor Bruce Kraus tried to assure commission members that their concerns and those of the public would be carefully considered.
“Our process is equal in duration, length and intensity to yours and probably even more,” he said.
Also on Tuesday, the Planning Commission recommended that the Pittsburgh City Council approve a historic nomination for Rodef Shalom Temple in Shadyside; members approved the College of Osteopathic Medicine at Duquesne University in Uptown, as well as the 636-bed tower at UPMC Presbyterian in Oakland.
UPMC and project officials touted the tower’s plan for green and public spaces, job creation, as well as UPMC’s commitment to giving back to the greater Pittsburgh community, and to Oakland in particular.
Public feedback for the tower has been largely positive. However, Dan Davis, the economic justice organizer for Pittsburgh United, questioned UPMC’s community involvement.
“We must stop supporting an institution that pays poverty wages while violating the rights of its workers, sickens large sections of the community and refuses to repay its fair share to the community,” he said, referring to a Pittsburgh United 2021 Report which charts income inequality and labor struggles at the city’s largest employer.
The members of the Commission unanimously approved the tower.