Oakland Crossings zoning change meeting contentious


The Oakland Crossings development proposed by Walnut Capital in South Oakland and the zoning change the company says it needs to proceed continue to be points of contention between the developer and neighborhood groups.

On Nov. 29, the Oakland Planning and Development Corp., which has voiced several objections to the project, held a development activities meeting to discuss the proposed zoning change of 17 acres in South and Central Oakland. The development would be mostly along McKee Place, where taller housing units would replace the single-family homes that now house mostly groups of students, and Halket Street, which would have mixed-use buildings.

OPDC has objected to the “unorthodox” way the zoning legislation came about. The proposal for the new public realm zoning subdistrict came from Mayor Bill Peduto’s office straight to City Council, instead of through community discussions and the planning department. The project has the support of the mayor and another neighborhood group, the Oakland Business Improvement District.

At the meeting, Jonathan Kamin, Walnut Capital’s attorney, detailed how the zoning subdistrict would help the company accomplish its goal of increasing the density of permanent, non-student residents in Oakland to make it a more vibrant neighborhood. The plan also includes a grocery store, expanded green spaces, and an elevated pedestrian bridge over the Boulevard of the Allies.

Kamin was forced to give details of the plan by following along with the 12-page text of the proposed zoning ordinance, when OPDC Executive Director Wanda Wilson would not let him show slides the company had prepared.

Walnut Capital President Todd Reidbord noted that, “Oakland is not a place where working people can live today. You need to change that dynamic, or Oakland is going to continue to go on a downward spiral.”

But for many attending the meeting, the issue was how the plan, which would have buildings much taller than what is currently in South Oakland and more mixed-use buildings in what has been strictly residential space, will change the character of the neighborhood.

“We in Oakland have lost many of our neighbors, replaced by newer, more wealthy neighbors,” said Randy Sargent, a member of the South Oakland Neighborhood Group. “We’ve lost a substantial fraction of our families with kids under 18.”

And he said the latest Census data shows half of the Black families in the neighborhood have left in the past 10 years, “that’s over 2,000 of our neighbors.”

The issue of affordable housing was one raised by several on the Zoom meeting. Walnut Capital has said it is committed to housing diversity, but there are no specifics in the plan.

In October, Pittsburgh City Council voted to send the amended zoning legislation to the planning commission for a hearing and action. The public meeting held this week is required by city regulations before a proposal can go before the Planning Commission.

City Councilman Bruce Kraus, who represents the area covered in the plan, said his office worked with Walnut Capital to make revisions to the zoning proposal, including new height restrictions.

Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at suejones@pitt.edu or 724-244-4042.


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