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City Planning Commission Greenlights 9-Story Strip District Apartment Complex

The Crucible_strip district.png
Courtesy of Westrise Captial

The Pittsburgh Planning Commission on Tuesday approved plans for a new apartment complex that will cover nearly a full block of Smallman Street in the Strip District.

Westrise Capital’s design calls for redeveloping three industrial buildings between 31st Street and 32nd Street into a 255-unit apartment building called the Crucible Lofts. The building design also includes attached retail space and a parking garage.

Commissioners approved the plans, but not without criticism about what the project means for future development in the neighborhood.

Commissioner Rachel O’Neill, who abstained from the vote that ultimately approved the development, expressed concerns about how the building’s aesthetic fits with the Strip District’s industrial roots. The property is surrounded by commercial properties with shorter structures made of different materials.

“Right now, it looks like you designed a building that could go anywhere,” O’Neill said. “We’ve seen some really thoughtful development [elsewhere in the Strip] where the larger buildings relate to [shorter buildings].”

A tense exchange between attorney Robert Lampl, who represents Westrise Capital, and O’Neill followed.

“We’ve done our best. I don’t know what you want. Do you want to redesign it?” Lampl asked.

“Please don’t characterize what I am or am not saying,” O’Neill responded.

“I’m trying to understand it,” Lampl said.

“No, you’re trying to dismiss it,” O'Neill replied.

Alison Keating, a member of Pittsburghers for Public Transit, took issue with the number of parking spaces included in the plans. She said the complex wouldn’t appeal to residents who don’t own a car.

Robert Indovina, who owns Indovina Architects, also criticized the 259-space parking garage because of the placement of its entrance and exit for residents. Indovina Architects is located across Mulberry Way from the property. Indovina said Mulberry Way is too narrow to support the increase in traffic that would be generated by residents coming to and from the property.

“You’re dumping 259 cars onto a 19-foot wide cartway, which is essentially a one-way street at this point,” Indovina said. “It’s more of an alley than a street.”

Indovina’s firm has designed multiple residential developments in the Strip District. He argued that a traffic study would not condone the use of Mulberry Way as an access point for the building.

Lampl said residents approved of the plans, citing a letter sent by the Community Development Committee of the nonprofit Strip District Neighbors applauding the project.

Before voting to approve the project, commission chair Christine Mondor spoke out about a lack of planning recommendations from the city for what the Strip District’s future as a residential neighborhood should look like. The Strip has seen explosions in both population and investment in recent years.

“It’s not giant lots for unloading rail and river and truck [deliveries]” anymore, Mondor said. “It’s instead, you know, where you have thousands of people who are coming to live and work in The Strip who require different types of urban forms.”

Mondor expressed concern about the rate of projects that consolidate multiple parcels into single structures that maximize their allowable size. But she said Westrise shouldn’t be blamed for how its project could influence the future appearance of the neighborhood.

She said she hopes to soon see city plans that consider the long-term future of The Strip District as a residential and commercial neighborhood. The city is creating a comprehensive guide to land use for the next 20 years, which is expected to include community input.

The commission also approved several other major projects Tuesday, including:

· A third building at the former Mill 19 site, now known as Hazelwood Green. The Regional Industrial Development Corporation will erect a third building with office, research and laboratory space. There is not yet a tenant for the space.

· Walnut Capital’s proposal to demolish 11 condemned rowhouses in the 3400 block of Bates Street in Oakland.

· Carnegie Mellon University’s proposal to build a new health, wellness and athletic center to replace its current Skibo gym. That project is expected to be completed before the Fall 2024 semester.

Kiley Koscinski covers city government, policy and how Pittsburghers engage with city services. She also works as a fill-in host for All Things Considered. Kiley has previously served as a producer on The Confluence and Morning Edition.
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