Skip to Navigation
University of Pittsburgh
Print This Page Print this pages

June 26, 2008

City planners okay Pitt master plan

Pitt’s updated facilities plan was approved last week by the Pittsburgh City Planning Commission. But commissioners also warned Pitt officials to keep the Oakland community informed about the University’s specific projects and not to expect projects to be rubber-stamped by the commission.

The Planning Commission voted unanimously June 17 to endorse Pitt’s “Institutional Master Plan Update,” which identifies “areas of opportunity” for possible academic, research, administration, athletic, residential and parking development on the Pittsburgh campus.

In a separate vote, the Planning Commission also okayed Pitt’s request for a zoning change in the 12-acre Robinson Court area near Trees Hall in order to accommodate the University’s plans to build athletics fields there.

Phase I of that project would build baseball and soccer fields by fall 2009; phase II calls for converting the existing baseball practice field to a track and field complex by fall 2011, Pitt officials have said. A goal of the new facilities is to enable Pitt to host NCAA and Big East events, and to provide on-campus home fields for the soccer and softball teams, which currently schedule home games off campus.

Among other potential near-term capital projects in the updated facilities plan are an undergraduate residence hall, research space adjacent to the Chevron Science Center and an art gallery extension to the Frick Fine Arts Building.

Both the master plan and the zoning change next move to City Council for approval. Before starting new construction, Pitt also must submit a development plan for each project to the Planning Commission and City Council for approval.

Prior to the June 17 votes, planning commissioner E. Paul Dick commented that Pitt’s plan was long on generalities and short on specifics. “Without the details of what you’re building, it’s very difficult to object to [the plan],” Dick said. “But ‘the devil is in the details,’ because among these places where you’ve suggested you might build a building at least three of them are bordering on residential areas. For example, you say a building that could be built on Bellefield behind the Music Building could be for research or academic [uses] or you could build a dormitory or other kinds of things. Regardless of what it might be, it is critical to the neighbors.”

Dick added that he lives in the Bellefield residential area where community groups are prominent, including the Bellefield Area Citizens Association and the Schenley Farms Civic Association. “These are neighborhoods with active people, active organizations. They sometimes see Pitt as the 800-pound gorilla,” he said. “What I would say is, particularly for projects that are near where people live, you start real early talking to people and engaging them for their input and not all of a sudden ask the Planning Commission or anybody else for quick approval. As long as you realize that you could have stiff opposition, start real early to see what kind of reactions you get. I can’t predict what will happen or have control of people, but you will get reactions.”

Eli Shorak, Pitt associate vice chancellor for Business, replied, “We appreciate your input. We do realize that Oakland has a number of organizations in the community and we have tried to engage them early.” A draft of the master plan was reviewed in March and April by several Oakland community groups, including the Oakland Community Council, the Oakland Task Force, the Oak Hill Residents Council and the Hill District Consensus Group, he noted.

Following the meeting, Shorak told the University Times that the Planning Commission approval process had gone relatively smoothly. “I didn’t hear anything we won’t be able to address with the community as we reveal some of the details to them and make them aware of our plans. As we hear concerns from them we can address those. At this point in time I’m not anticipating any major issues,” Shorak said.

He added that the approval process to begin construction of athletics facilities was on schedule. If City Council okays the master plan and the rezoning, a project development plan for those facilities is expected to be brought before the Planning Commission in July or September.

“I was very pleased with the approval today, and I look forward to addressing City Council when it goes through the normal process of public hearings, and then it goes into a committee and eventually goes into a full vote,” Shorak said. Dates are not set yet for council’s review.

Pitt released its original 2007-2018 master facilities plan, which outlines capital facilities projects totaling nearly $1 billion in four-year phases, in May 2007. (See University Times, May 17, 2007.)

—Peter Hart

Leave a Reply