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Development & Transportation

A Giant Eagle, apartments and retail are planned for a crucial corner in Bloomfield

BloomfieldSquareMassing.png
Echo Realty
Echo Realty has teamed up with architectural firm AE7 to design “Bloomfield Square.” Echo’s vice president stressed that the “white blob” is just a “starting point” to give people a sense of scale.

The future of the old ShurSave site in Pittsburgh’s Bloomfield neighborhood will include a grocery store. At a community meeting held on Zoom Monday night, the site’s owners, Echo Realty, announced that Giant Eagle will be the new development’s main tenant.

In addition to the grocery, “Bloomfield Square” would have underground parking, several small retail shops, a public plaza, and roughly 190 apartments, 10 percent of which would be affordable.

Pittsburgh-based Echo Realty focuses primarily on projects that revolve around grocery stores; the company is in the midst of another large grocery-anchored redevelopment: the Shady Hill Center plaza between Shadyside and East Liberty that is home to the Shakespeare Giant Eagle.

Echo holds onto its properties, and is committed to becoming a part of Bloomfield, said Philip Bishop, the company’s vice president.

“There are real estate development companies that come into communities, that build things, they make promises, then they turn around and sell it for a lot of money,” he said. “ We don’t do that.”

The nearly two-acre site at the western gateway to Bloomfield is one of the last large parcels in the neighborhood, and sits catty-corner to the shuttered Bloomfield Bridge Tavern.

A previous proposal for the site drew concern from hundreds of Bloomfield and nearby residents. Indiana-based developer Milhaus planned to eliminate the grocery store and build market-rate apartments.

Milhaus “was essentially proposing a gated community,” said Christina Howell, executive director of the Bloomfield Development Corporation (BDC), the neighborhood’s registered community organization. In 2018, some 500 people tried to attend a community meeting on that plan; 100 people had to be turned away because the space was over capacity. Residents overwhelmingly called for affordable housing and to maintain the grocery store. Milhaus dropped out of the deal in late 2018.

Nonprofit housing developer ACTION-Housing gave BDC a grant to create a community plan for the area, which clusters around the busy intersection of the Bloomfield Bridge, Liberty Avenue, and Main Street. That process culminated in a report, released in June of 2019, which found that residents overwhelmingly wanted to see the ShurSave site redeveloped “in such a way that it complements the neighborhood, and continues to provide important, community-supported uses.”

BDC will work to ensure resident voices are heard, Howell said.

“We firmly believe that Bloomfield is the main amenity when a development wants to locate in Bloomfield,” she said. “They want their residents and their businesses to have access to the people who live here and the people who shop here from outside of our neighborhood.”

Bishop agreed, and said he and his team learned from Milhaus’s experience. They bought the site in 2020, and met with BDC to discuss the community development guidelines before creating a preliminary plan.

“We try to do this right, we try to listen,” Bishop said.

Though Monday night’s meeting provided a broad overview of Echo’s intentions, its intent was quite narrow: to win community support for a zoning change on a small piece of land toward the back of the site. Currently, the land only allows residential housing, which Echo would like to switch to local neighborhood commercial, or LNC. If approved, it would allow the company to offer access to underground parking on both sides of the development, and hopefully reduce traffic on Gangwish Street, a narrow road on the northern edge of the site.

Nearly 100 residents logged on to the virtual community meeting, and the chat was busy with people asking questions about traffic, parking, and repeatedly, the amount of affordable housing proposed for the site.

Ten percent “seems very low to me, a floor, not a ceiling,” Daniel Barrett wrote in the chat. “I'd hate to see zoning changes supported without a firm, legally binding agreement that includes a substantially higher percentage of affordable units.”

Joseph Wingenfeld noted that more affordable housing would require subsidies that could slow the project, which Bruce Chan acknowledged, and urged Echo to begin looking for that money now. “Bloomfield expects nothing less than a development where our current neighbors and current small businesses can move into. If not, then I’m not sure if it's for us.”

David Breingan, executive director of Lawrenceville United, asked if Echo would accept housing choice vouchers in the affordable units, “it wouldn’t create additional costs to the developer but would allow deeper affordability,” he wrote.

Residents also raised concerns about safety: the busy intersection is already dicey for pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers alike. Tom Hendrickson wrote in the chat that he appreciated how pedestrian-friendly Echo’s plan is, but noted that the streets just beyond it are challenging.

“What can you propose proactively to offset the increased traffic that this development will assuredly bring?” he said.

There were a lot of questions Bishop couldn’t answer; he said the plan is still in its early stages, and there will be many more community meetings.

Echo will next request a meeting before the Planning Commission early in 2022.