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Developer Expects Penn Plaza Site To Help Fund Affordable Housing, Advocates Call For More

A conceptual drawing shows part of the planned redevelopment of the former Penn Plaza site, as presented in a preliminary plan submitted to the City of Pittsburgh’s Department of City Planning by LG Realty Advisors and their team.";

Developers of the former Penn Plaza site in East Liberty made their first presentation Tuesday to the Pittsburgh Planning Commission since that body rejected its development plan more than a year ago. That deal included a mixed-use development anchored by a Whole Foods, which has since pulled out.

Pennley Park South, an affiliate of LG Realty Advisors, will host retail and office tenants, but no housing. Instead, the consent order of court that governs the site directs tax money generated by its redevelopment to an account that will fund mixed-use housing: the East End Housing Regeneration Account.

The tax financing plan will create more affordable housing, said site owner Lawrence Gumberg, president of LG Realty Advisors.

“Our mission here is to try to build something of the highest and best use that will create the most value,” he said. “That ultimately creates the best opportunity for increase in tax increment that provides the most dollars for the affordable housing trust fund.”

When asked if the creation of affordable housing was his sole mission, Gumberg said no, they are real estate developers.

“What our project does is it creates an affordable housing trust fund to fill the [financing] gap,” he said. “It will allow other developers to build mixed income, fair and affordable housing and have a fund to fill the gap.”

The first phase of development is expected to generate up to $2 million for the fund, said Gumberg.

The planning process at this stage required Pennley Park South’s presentation to include items such as sidewalk widths and building heights. Tenants who might occupy the space will likely be decided long after the city votes on the developer’s site plan.

To have retail and office space where low-income and elderly were evicted from the former Penn Plaza apartments is emblematic of the city’s housing crisis, said Dan Yablonsky, an organizer with Penn Plaza Support & Action. The group plans to protest the development by picketing near Gumberg’s home on Wednesday afternoon.

“Are we as a city going to bend to the will of developers that want to profit on our neighborhoods? Or are we going to protect and cultivate the residents and culture that has built that neighborhood over decades?”

Yablonsky said that LG Realty Advisors is working within the law.

“But it just underscores how deeply flawed the city’s public process is,” said Yablonsky. “And how willing our leaders are to encourage development that doesn’t necessarily further a community’s needs.”

Penn Plaza Support & Action also launched a letter-writing campaign to demand Mayor Bill Peduto’s administration implement affordable housing policies that have been recommended, and to review the public process so it better represents the voices of people most affected, he said. The group is also calling on the city to buy the Penn Plaza site via eminent domain.

Public comment is not permitted at Planning Commission briefings. A hearing will be held soon, but has not yet been scheduled. The next public meeting on the future of the Pennley Park South development will be held April 16 at Eastminster Church.

Margaret J. Krauss is WESA’s senior reporter. She covers development and transportation, and has produced award-winning podcasts on housing, work, and Pittsburgh’s lesser-known history. Before joining the newsroom full time, she covered the challenges facing Pennsylvania cities as a statewide reporter, and spent another life as an assistant editor for National Geographic Kids Magazine in Washington, D.C. She can be reached at mkrauss@wesa.fm.