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Hazelwood Green developers say more parking now could curb car use in the future

Kiley Koscinski
90.5 WESA
The renovated Mill 19 building is one of only a few active sites on the 178-acre Hazelwood Green development.

Plans to nearly triple parking at Hazlewood Green, combined with other changes to the site’s development guidelines, have caused some nearby residents to worry the site could be in danger of becoming a car-dependent strip mall.

“That’s against the fundamental beginning of this entire development,” said Eric Day, a Hazelwood resident who formerly volunteered with the nonprofit Hazelwood Initiative’s development committee.

The Hazelwood Green development team will present the proposed changes to Pittsburgh’s Planning Commission on Tuesday afternoon. The amendments include allowing 5,500 temporary parking spaces, up from 2,000, increasing the minimum amount of parking needed for different types of developments, and granting developers broader ability to build parking garages. The development team also hopes to remove a requirement to build such structured garages with an eye to retrofitting them as offices or homes.

“This development cannot support individual trips in automobiles,” Day said, citing three traffic studies conducted over the last decade that looked at the impact on Hazelwood and Second Avenue.

The studies were part of a planning process largely underwritten by the 178-acre site’s owner, Almono Limited Partners. The group comprises three foundations: the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, the Richard King Mellon Foundation, and The Heinz Endowments.

Almono LP has championed the creation of a dense, pedestrian-friendly site supported by abundant transit options, said Todd Stern, a managing director for U3 Advisors. The firm serves as a development advisor on the project.

“We have no interest in undermining all of that really good work,” Stern said.

Stern says there isn’t enough demand to warrant great mass transit service to the site yet. So in the short term, potential businesses need to be confident that employees and customers can get there. That means temporarily making concessions to automobiles, Stern said, while trying to make the minimum number of changes possible.

“We’re talking about interim solutions that are necessary to help us kickstart development activity,” Stern said. “But ultimately, we’re going to have to find mass transit solutions to really enable growth in this region.”

Pittsburgh City Councilor Corey O’Connor, who represents the area, agreed. While he was initially concerned about the increased levels of parking, O’Connor said, “Hopefully, we get something better organized.”

Other proposed amendments to the site’s development regulations, and to a preliminary development plan, include allowing warehousing on the site. That has prompted concerns that Hazelwood Green could be overrun with big box stores, or become a draw for a company like Amazon. But Stern said that wasn’t the intent — and other elements of the plan would make it hard for big-box retailers to move in.

Pittsburgh’s director of city planning Andrew Dash described the proposed changes to Hazelwood Green as “significant.” But he agreed that the plan includes building height restrictions that would “dissuade” big-box retail from setting up shop in the area.

The changes mean more interest in Hazelwood as a place to live, work, and do business, said Sonya Tilghman, executive director of the Hazelwood Initiative. But she said she doesn’t expect the broader vision for the site to change — especially because ensuring that Hazelwood Green doesn’t become “a re-do of the Waterfront remains a unifying theme between Almono and the rest of the community.”