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New Riverfront Zoning Plan Is Now Headed To City Council

Keith Srakocic
Pittsburgh boasts 35 miles of riverfront that may soon be governed by a new zoning framework.

The Pittsburgh Planning Commission voted on Tuesday to positively recommend a new Riverfront Zoning plan to City Council for its consideration.

For more than two years, the Department of City Planning has worked with developers, business owners, residents and other stakeholders to create a new framework for approaching the city’s 35 miles of waterfront. The proposed zoning code streamlines land use classifications, condensing more than a dozen to five.

In order to encourage sustainability, the preservation of river views and the creation of active spaces, the code includes restrictions on things such as surface parking, building height, building length and proximity to the river, among others. A bonus system would allow developers to win exceptions to those restrictions by providing public benefits such as waterfront access, riverfront trails or public art.

Project Manager Andrea Lavin Kossis said after being involved in the planning details for so long, it’s important to remember the whole.

“It’s helpful … to be able to take a step back and look at all the planning work that’s been done and the opinions we’ve heard about what folks’ vision for the riverfront is,” she said. “And realizing that these details are integral ways to get to that vision.”

At the plan’s original hearing on Feb. 20, developers and others raised concerns about how the proposed zoning changes could affect their ability and flexibility to build new projects. City Planning staff proposed a number of changes that the Planning Commission adopted to move the code forward.

Speaking after the meeting, CEO of Oxford Development Steve Guy said he was more comfortable with the zoning plan.

“Change is always hard, it’s inevitable,” he said. “And we just have to work together and try to make it the best change possible.”

Guy said he would like to see the system of bonus points more clearly explained.

“How did you come up with what the benefit is for what the cost is?” he said. “And just continuing to talk to Planning. They’ve been very open.”

Vivien Li, CEO of the nonprofit Riverlife, said city planning staff had listened carefully to all the different perspectives.

“They have really bent over backwards to talk to the development community. So I am looking forward to working with Steve Guy as this goes before City Council,” she said, taking Guy’s arm. “Isn’t that what we talked about?”

Guy nodded.

“And I’m looking forward to working with Vivien Li and Riverlife as this goes to City Council," he said.

Li said Riverlife wanted to see development limited to 95 feet from water’s edge, but one of the changes adopted Tuesday was an exception to that limit.

“We’ll go back and look at that,” she said. “We’re going to work with the business community. It is our hope to see permanent riverfront zoning adopted by City Council this year.”

In order to address concerns raised at the Feb. 20 meeting, city planning suggested eight changes to the proposed Riverfront Zoning plan: a stretch of Morningside would be classified as mixed-use instead of urban industrial; stadiums would be exempt from the building length limit of 500 feet; projects could build closer to the riverfront, as long as they meet four requirements; the maximum building height in Chateau could be 250 feet; projects with larger footprints could build tower buildings; the bonus system would include points for creating transit-oriented development amenities such as a bus station; and allowing more public space to be built in the North Shore. The Planning Commission voted to include all of the changes except for the new building height limit in Chateau.

Once the language has been finalized, the plan will be sent to City Council, which will schedule a public hearing.

The Planning Commission also voted Tuesday to approve plans for a second building at the Hazelwood Green site. The old mill building has been stripped of its walls and roof, and just the steel superstructure remains. Three buildings will be built within that skeleton, collectively known as Mill 19. Construction is already underway on the first building, roughly two-thirds of which will be leased by Carnegie Mellon University and the Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing Institute. The building is owned by RIDC.