Pittsburgh City Council Approves New Framework For Riverfront Development

Jul 31, 2018

At its last regular meeting before an August recess, Pittsburgh City Councilors voted to approve new, permanent zoning for Pittsburgh's 35 miles of riverfront. 

Councilwoman Deb Gross thanked members of the public for attending years of meetings, and her fellow councilmembers for their patience.

“I just want to...really acknowledge the transformative power that this process has,” she said. “To make all of the riverfront accessible as a public amenity.”

The planning framework, called the “RIV,” has been in the works for more than two years, and at times faced both broad and specific challenges from a range of stakeholders. At a public hearing held at City Council in June, some property owners worried the zoning language could have a chilling effect on riverfront development.

Brandon Mendoza, president of the Pittsburgh chapter of NAIOP, a commercial real estate development group, was not immediately available for comment. The group's former president, David Weisberg, voiced concern about the plan in the June hearing. 

Peg McCormick Barron, board chair for nonprofit Riverlife said the zoning changes provide predictability to developers.

“So that they know what is expected, what the standards are for the quality of design, for preserving public access, for environmental sustainability,” she said. “It really helps ensure that we all—residents, visitors, everyone—has access and can enjoy the riverfronts.”

The RIV had to incorporate the needs of a broad range of property owners and residents, said Andrew Dash, assistant director of Pittsburgh’s Department of City Planning.

“We try to engage as broad of a stakeholder group as possible so that we can get as many different viewpoints as possible, and try to address the major concerns,” he said.

The RIV uses a “performance points” or bonus system as a way to balance environmental preservation, resident access to the rivers and high quality development. New buildings in the RIV are subject to restrictions on height and proximity to water’s edge. However, developers can exceed those limits by including public benefits in their plans such as affordable housing, bike or car share or public art.

The new zoning replaces an interim framework that’s governed riverfront development since council first approved it in May of 2016. The RIV condensed more than a dozen land-use classifications into five.

The RIV and its performance points system provide a new avenue to accomplish the ideals community members have expressed over decades of planning processes, said Dash.

“Greater physical or visual access to the rivers as that thing that we hold dear as Pittsburghers,” he said. “The design of buildings and the sustainability of buildings and how we’re managing stormwater.”

Eight councilors voted to support the bill; Darlene Harris abstained.

The zoning changes are effective immediately.