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Mayor Ed Gainey kicks off a new round of discussion about Oakland Crossings

Maria Anto
90.5 WESA
The proposed 18-acre development would remake a number of streets close to Boulevard of the Allies, and could include renovation of the former Isaly’s building, now used by UPMC.

On Tuesday night, Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey joined a community meeting about the proposed Oakland Crossings development, where more than 100 people shared a wide range of views.

“My main goal right now is just to listen,” Gainey said at the outset of the meeting, which was hosted by the Oakland Planning and Development Corporation.

The proposed 18-acre development was supposed to go before the city’s Planning Commission this month, but Gainey put the project on a 30-day pause to better understand community concerns.

It has been controversial since former Mayor Bill Peduto introduced legislation last fall that would allow Walnut Capital to build a nearly 18-acre development in Oakland near the Boulevard of the Allies. The project envisions tall, mixed-use buildings with apartments and offices grounded by first-floor stores, more green space, and a grocery store at the site of a former hotel.

At Tuesday’s meeting, OPDC executive director Wanda Wilson gave a brief rundown of her group’s concerns about the project, which range from its potential impact on the neighborhood’s character to how the proposal came before the public.

“We have a plan process going on right now,” she said, referring to a community-drafted plan that will direct future growth in the neighborhood. “That’s really the way that we would like to see zoning for our community developed.”

Wilson said OPDC is eager to see development, but wants to ensure it is equitable. In its current form, the Walnut Capital proposal does not include income-restricted affordable housing; the developer has proposed a “walk-to-work housing” approach as an alternative. But misgivings about affordability remain a key point of dispute

“We talk about growth and bringing people to our city: how can they do that if there’s no affordable housing?” asked resident Ty Williams.

A lack of clearly defined and enforced affordable housing will continue to push people out of Oakland, said Randy Sargent, an Oakland resident and secretary of the South Oakland Neighborhood Group.

“Every time we tear down houses and build more expensive houses, or tear down houses and build other buildings, we displace people,” he said.

But Nick Casciato, who owns property on Halket Street, said he wants to sell to Walnut Capital for the good of Oakland.

“All the new developments that are coming in are making the city more prosperous,” he said. “That’s what you have to do, you have to bring in more people.”

In the Zoom meeting’s chat forum, several people echoed the idea that Oakland needs the kind of large-scale investment Walnut Capital promises to bring. There was a lot of focus on a grocery store proposed for the former Quality Inn site that the University of Pittsburgh owns. Others noted that the site could be developed as a grocery store without rewriting Oakland’s zoning.

At the end of the meeting, Gainey said it’s important to hear from all sides, and that there will be further opportunities to do so, “until we get to a point where we feel we’ve got enough information to be able to discuss it intelligently.”

The Department of City Planning will host another meeting on February 2 at 6 p.m.

Margaret J. Krauss is WESA’s senior reporter. She covers development and transportation, and has produced award-winning podcasts on housing, work, and Pittsburgh’s lesser-known history. Before joining the newsroom full time, she covered the challenges facing Pennsylvania cities as a statewide reporter, and spent another life as an assistant editor for National Geographic Kids Magazine in Washington, D.C. She can be reached at