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After compromises on parking, design, Hazelwood Green gets green light

An illustration of Hazelwood Green’s future, as envisioned by the preliminary land development plan, first approved in 2018.
Hazelwood Green Preliminary Land Development Plan
Depiction, LLC
An illustration of Hazelwood Green’s future, as envisioned by the preliminary land development plan, first approved in 2018.

After a series of compromises with the developer, and despite a notable expansion of parking space, Pittsburgh’s Planning Commission has put its stamp of approval on a long-awaited plan to redevelop the 178-acre Hazelwood Green site.

After years of planning, the 4-0 vote Tuesday was the latest piece of good news for the effort to turn a former steel mill site into a new urban community. The vote came days after a pledgeto build a $100 million biomedical research and manufacturing facility on the site. And proponents of the project said more good news was coming.

“We look forward to being back with you with some very exiting news really soon,” said Jonathan Kamin, a lawyer for development consortium Almono, after the commission voted in favor of the plan.

The vote resolved a series of questions that had been raised in recent weeks about proposed changes to the development’s previous 2018 design. Among the proposals, Almono had sought to lower the minimum height required of some buildings, and to expand the supply of parking at the site to 5,500 spaces. That raised concerns that the resulting project would make the Green more like a big-box strip mall than the mixed-use urban community that long had been envisioned.

Kamen and Kristen Hall, another consultant on the project, stressed that the project needed flexibility in “what frankly is a challenging market right now,” as Hall put it.

“The situation is fluid,” Kamin agreed. “Even though this is 10 years in the making, we’re really on the front end of planning this, and we need to have flexibility.”

Still, Kamin argued that the developers were “rational actors. Nobody want to build more parking than we have to.” He stressed that the parking was a transitional step, one that the Green could someday outgrow.

To prove such a thing was possible, he showed the commission aerial photos of the Strip District, highlighting oceanic parking lots that existed in 2005 but had shrunk dramatically within 15 years.

“We actually have a perfect example of this process [of] the disappearance of temporary parking [which] actually occurred organically in the Strip District," he said.

City planning staff recommended that the commission condition its approval by adding a sunset provision that would limit the existence of parking to 40 years. That measure was not included in the final package, but after weeks of discussion with planning staff and others, the developers agreed to rules about the placement of parking and ensuring a review of parking needs before all the spaces were built.

They made a further pledge at the table on Tuesday after commissioner Becky Mingo expressed concern that the site not be used as shuttle parking for hospital and other workers to be bused to jobs elsewhere in town. Kamin agreed to include language that would assure any parking was tied to uses on the Green site itself.

Almono made similar concessions on the siting of warehouses — limiting the number of such facilities to four across the entire site — and placed limits on the kind of buildings that could take advantage of lower height requirements.

City zoning administrator Corey Layman said the moves were an effort “to give some protection against larger. big-box retail concerns that had been raised.”

Such efforts were enough to secure the support of the Hazelwood Initiative, a neighborhood group whose executive director was the only member of the public to comment on the plan Tuesday.

The developer’s concessions, said Sonya Tilghman, “helped alleviate some community concerns around big-box retailers proliferating on the site.”

And she said that the additional parking was reasonable because “we still don’t have enough demand” for mass transit service that could reduce dependence on cars.

The commission’s vote means that zoning changes sought by the developer will go before City Council, where approval seems likely: Councilman Corey O’Connor, who represents the district, supports the proposal. But while the commission also granted approval of the corresponding site plan, its members will be hearing about the project for years to come.

As Kamin said, “It’s not as if we aren’t going to be back in front of you again multiple times as various pieces come together.”

Nearly three decades after leaving home for college, Chris Potter now lives four miles from the house he grew up in -- a testament either to the charm of the South Hills or to a simple lack of ambition. In the intervening years, Potter held a variety of jobs, including asbestos abatement engineer and ice-cream truck driver. He has also worked for a number of local media outlets, only some of which then went out of business. After serving as the editor of Pittsburgh City Paper for a decade, he covered politics and government at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He has won some awards during the course of his quarter-century journalistic career, but then even a blind squirrel sometimes digs up an acorn.