By SUSAN JONES
The proposed zoning change for Walnut Capital’s Oakland Crossings project now has a smaller footprint, more green space and an agreement to provide more affordable housing.
THE OAKLAND PLAN
A draft of the Oakland Plan, developed over two and a half years with input from Oakland residents and workers, was released on March 7. It is now open for a 30-day comment period. Pittsburgh Planning Commission will hear briefings on the plan on March 22 and April 5.
Some major themes in the plan include:
- Grow housing and job opportunities
- Increase livability through public and private investments in Oakland such as new and improved open spaces, expanded tree canopy, stormwater management systems, and supportive services.
- Reimagine mobility systems to prioritize the comfort and safety of pedestrians including those with accessibility needs, transit riders, and cyclists.
- Acknowledge and address inequities for Black residents, students of all backgrounds, and create a welcoming environment for the the neighborhood’s growing immigrant and newcomer community.
The Oakland Plan can be viewed here. The planning commission meetings will be available on the Pittsburgh City Planning YouTube page.
The agreement reached between Mayor Ed Gainey’s office and the developer came before the Pittsburgh Planning Commission on March 8. Gainey had asked for two delays in the commission taking up the issue while his administration met with residents and other stakeholders to try to reach an agreement.
Walnut Capital officials told the planning commission that the new zoning proposal is modeled on the Oakland Plan — a draft of which was released March 7 after a two and a half year process.
The new area — which is around 13 acres instead of the original 18 acres — would be zoned as Urban Center Mixed Use. It includes building multi-unit apartment buildings on Halket Street, and developing the Quality Inn and Isaly sites along the Boulevard of the Allies. McKee Place and Louisa Street, along with Zulema Park, were removed from the zoning district.
Pitt owns the Quality Inn site and last year said it was working with Walnut Capital to develop into non-student housing with a grocery store on the first floor. The Post-Gazette reported last week that Giant Eagle is the top contender to locate at the site.
The commission delayed a vote on the zoning proposal until its March 22 meeting to allow the commissioners time to digest the changes and fully review the Oakland Plan.
The deal includes narrower and more clearly defined zoning and a public benefits agreement that covers affordable housing, food access, and contracts for minority and women-owned business enterprises. See details of the plan here.
“We believe that this proposed language, which is more tailored than the previous proposal, is a substantial improvement over what was previously before the commission in December and still meets the needs of the proposed developer but does so in a way that secures additional protections and benefits for the public,” Deputy Mayor Jake Pawlak said at the planning commission meeting.
Some highlights of the plan:
In multifamily residential developments, 10 percent of units will have rent that is affordable to households at or below 50 percent of the area’s median income for a minimum of 35 years.
Language more specifically spells out what the space can be used for, along with residential compatibility and building design standards.
Surface parking has been limited to accessory use, such as short-term visitors.
Lots of 20,000 square feet or more must have at least 10 percent open space.
The base height limit on Halket Street is 65 feet, but with various bonuses, Walnut Capital can build as high as 120 feet north of Louisa toward Forbes Avenue and to 185 feet south of Louisa toward the boulevard. At the Isaly’s site, the developer is limited to 85 feet near Niagara Street but can go as high as 185 feet at the back of the site.
A green buffer is required between any new development and any current residential areas.
Walnut Capital also has agreed to support workforce training and provide union construction jobs.
“This agreement is the first time a private developer has committed to using the Housing Authority choice voucher program to reach inclusionary zoning requirements in Pittsburgh’s history and will include a new grocery store that will bring much needed options for fresh food to this neighborhood,” Gainey said in a news release.
“We worked together to problem solve innovative ways that ensure the community receives its long-awaited grocery store and that we can build a sustainable, affordable, inclusive mixed-use development that lifts up everyone in the community,” Todd Reidbord president of Walnut Capital, said in the news release. “Oakland Crossings will be a national model of how this can be done."
Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-244-4042.
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