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February 4, 2010

Pitt master plan updated; additions to Posvar, GSPH possible

The Pittsburgh planning commission on Tuesday approved updates to the University’s master plan that outline potential expansions to Posvar Hall, the Concordia building and Parran/Crabtree halls, as well as a zoning change for property near the Bouquet Gardens residences on which Pitt plans to build additional student housing.

The planners’ recommendation must go to Pittsburgh City Council for final approval. Council could consider the matter within a few weeks, said city zoning administrator Susan Tymoczko.

Approval of the changes to the master plan is not a green light for any of the proposed development to take place. Individual projects would need to come before the planning commission as a development plan, Tymoczko said.

The planners approved Pitt’s request to rezone property at 315 Oakland Ave. from its current high-density residential zoning to the Educational/Medical Institution (EMI) district designation.

Pitt purchased the Oakland Avenue property, which includes a house once used as office space, from Children’s Hospital for nearly $1.4 million.

EMI zoning is intended to accommodate educational and medical institutional uses while minimizing adverse impacts that can occur when such uses are located near neighborhoods. Property in the EMI district must be developed within the framework of an Institutional Master Plan (IMP), which, according to the city zoning code, “is intended to permit flexibility for a large institution which is not possible on a lot-by-lot basis, while providing a level of understanding to the public and the community about the potential growth of institutions and the resultant impacts.”

IMPs must include descriptions of the institution’s plans for development within 10- and 25-year time frames. The so-called “development envelopes” represent the maximum amount of proposed development. According to the zoning code, “The intent of this provision is to provide the institution with flexibility regarding the future development potential of its campus, while addressing the potential impacts of that development on the surrounding neighborhoods.”

Associate Vice Chancellor for Business Eli Shorak said IMPs represent a broad view of what an institution is planning 10 years down the road.

He noted that Pitt intends to post its master plan documents on the Facilities Management web site ( in the coming weeks.

Pitt’s updated IMP describes the following “areas of opportunity” within a 10-year development envelope:

An addition to Posvar Hall on the existing plaza along Clemente Drive and under the building cantilever along Schenley Drive. Possible uses include academic, research, administration and library space with a maximum area of 35,000 square feet per floor. The addition would be no taller than the existing Posvar Hall and would go no closer to the roads than the existing plaza.

The Oakland Avenue property south of Bouquet Gardens. According to the IMP update, development would be no higher than five stories with a maximum area of 100,000 square feet.  Front setbacks would match adjacent properties.

Restoration and an addition to Parran and Crabtree Halls along North Bouquet Street. Uses could include academic, administrative, education, residential and parking with a maximum area of 15,000 square feet per floor and a height no greater than eight stories on the Fifth Avenue side of the building.

• Renovation and expansion of the former Concordia Club at 4024 O’Hara Street, which Pitt purchased in December for $2.1 million.

According to the IMP, the maximum height would not exceed Thackeray Hall or the University Club and possible uses could include academic, administrative, research, residential and parking.

Two citizens spoke against the University’s proposal.

One Thomas Boulevard resident expressed concern about potential uses for the Oakland Avenue property.

Zoning administrator Tymoczko clarified that although the EMI zoning permits a number of uses, Pitt’s stated purpose was for new student housing and that any development would need to go through the city planning process.

Carlino Giampolo, who has campaigned against litter and other blight in South Oakland, cautioned that the development would bring 200 additional students to the community, exacerbating problems with drunkenness, traffic and parking.

“Pitt has other campuses where they can pursue their expansion plans,” he told planners.

Oakland Planning and Development Corp. executive director Wanda Wilson spoke in support of the proposal for additional student housing, telling planners that “the University is a better landlord than many landlords in Oakland.” She also requested that historical documentation be collected for the existing Victorian-style building on the Oakland Avenue property before it is demolished and asked that green building certification be pursued for new housing to be constructed on the site.

Shorak agreed that photographs could be taken to document the history of the home.

He would not commit to seek LEED certification for the student housing, but noted that Pitt’s design standards call for efficient, sustainable construction.

“I’m not committing that this specific building will meet a certain design standard, but if you look at all the design criteria that we put into a building, there’s a good chance that it will,” he said.

“Sustainability is something that is very important to the institution.”

—Kimberly K. Barlow

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