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Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey hits pause on major development in Oakland

Walnut Capital

The proposed Oakland Crossings project, a nearly 18-acre development that could remake the neighborhood, has been put on a 30-day pause. The Pittsburgh Planning Commission was slated to vote Tuesday on a zoning change that would allow Walnut Capital’s development to move forward. Instead, Mayor Ed Gainey’s administration has asked for a continuance, or delay.

More time will allow Gainey and his team to “review … and update the proposed legislative text” to ensure equitable development, the mayor’s office said in a statement.

The Planning Commission has moved the vote to its Feb. 8 meeting. In the interim, Gainey said that his administration will work with community and student groups, housing-justice advocates, and developer Walnut Capital.

The company’s president, Todd Reidbord, said in a statement that he appreciates the Gainey administration’s decision “to direct the planning department to collaborate with us so that we can thoroughly address any questions” about the project’s intent.

One of the groups involved in those discussions, Oakland Planning and Development Corporation, has been one of the project’s major critics. Executive Director Wanda Wilson said the 30-day pause “is welcome news given the level of resident concern. … We look forward to discussing the matter further with [the] administration and Department of City Planning Staff.”

The Oakland Crossings project has generated controversy since the Peduto administration introduced legislation for the project last fall. Affordable housing has been one key sticking point. Reidbord has said that affordable housing takes different forms in different neighborhoods; for Oakland Crossings, the company is working with the University of Pittsburgh to create walk-to-work housing for its staff. However, there are no income limits on that housing, which has caused many people to worry that rising costs in the neighborhood will continue to push out residents of color and those of modest means.

Housing affordability was a key issue for Gainey’s successful bid for mayor last year. When asked if that emphasis on affordable housing could change the development’s direction, Walnut Capital consultant Joanna Doven said, “We are working diligently with the mayor’s office to ensure that we’re in lockstep with their stated goals related to affordable housing.”

The mayor’s office said the decision to delay the vote was made with input from both Walnut Capital and the Department of City Planning.

“I am hopeful we will find a solution that prioritizes equitable development, aligns with the priorities raised by residents in the Oakland Plan process, and delivers on much needed affordable housing prospects for the people of Pittsburgh,” Gainey’s statement said.