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September 3, 1998

Dorm proposal faces one more City Council hearing Sept. 10

Pitt's proposal to build three 4-story apartment buildings in South Oakland faces one more public hearing — this one before Pittsburgh City Council Sept. 10.

If City Council approves the project, Pitt plans to house 192 students, beginning in September 1999, in garden-style apartments to be built on University-owned land between South Bouquet Street and Oakland Avenue. The University has earmarked $5.3 million for the 16-unit buildings.

Some Oakland residents have opposed the project, arguing before the Zoning Board of Pittsburgh and the City Planning Commission that the increased student population would have an adverse effect of parking, congestion, noise and litter and that the design of the buildings did not meet zoning code specifications. The zoning board approved Pitt's request for a zoning code variance at its Aug. 13 meeting, after delaying a vote following objections at a prior meeting. (See University Times, July 23.) In granting the approval, the board ruled that the requested variances — height, setback (distance from the curb) and side (proximity to existing buildings) — were properly covered in the sections of the zoning code under which Pitt had applied. The board found that the University's proposal demonstrated that "approval of the variance would be consistent with the public interest." The board further ruled that the objection to the number of occupants — the University plans to house four students per apartment unit, while the zoning code mandates a maximum of three — was covered by the "conditional use exemption" that Pitt simultaneously had filed with City Council, and was not part of the zoning board's jurisdiction. Two conditions were attached by the zoning board in granting variance approval: "the continued development of a master parking plan; variances granted shall be effective only when and if City Council grants the pertinent use of [conditional use exemption] approvals." A third condition was mentioned in the zoning board's ruling: to have a "revision of facade design along Oakland Avenue … in a manner satisfactory to the Planning Commission." This condition had been satisfied on July 28 when the commission voted 5-2 in favor of approval of the project, although Planning Commission approval also is contingent on City Council's approval.

In other construction news, the City Planning Commission July 28 approved Pitt's plan to raze Pennsylvania Hall by a vote of 6-1. The commission added the condition that Pitt preserve the statue of Aesculapius, Roman god of medicine, that is part of the building's original structure. Demolition of the building will cost an estimated $420,000, according to the University's Ten-Year Facilities Plan. The University plans to construct a 64-car underground parking lot and above-ground tennis courts on the site at an estimated cost of $1.5 million.

–Peter Hart

Filed under: Feature,Volume 31 Issue 1

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