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At odds with the director, several Oakland Planning and Development board members resign

Maria Anto
90.5 WESA

The board of an Oakland community group was cut in half this week after multiple resignations, including the board’s chair. But the Oakland Planning and Development Corporation and the former board members are at odds about the reason for those resignations.

In a letter sent to Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey Thursday, former OPDC board chair Jake Oresick said he and six other board members resigned due to alleged behavior by OPDC’s executive director Wanda Wilson.

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Oresick claimed Wilson had “lost any capacity for compromise” with the board and disrespected those who disagreed with her. He also claimed Wilson “engaged in name-calling, ignored board directives, and antagonized critical stakeholders.”

But Andrea Boykowycz, assistant director of OPDC, said Friday that only four board members resigned. Two others allowed their terms to expire, while she said a third was disinvited for a lack of participation. Calls to Wanda Wilson were not returned, and a voicemail message indicated that she was out of the office Friday.

The animosity began last fall when a large redevelopment project was first proposed near UPMC Magee-Women’s Hospital and Boulevard of the Allies. The Oakland Crossings project calls for a zoning change that would allow taller and longer buildings in designated sections. The proposal was supported by former Mayor Bill Peduto.

But OPDC largely opposed it. Wilson described the move as “absolutely outrageous” and “appalling.” The zoning changes have not yet been approved by Pittsburgh City Council but have been cleared by the city’s Planning Commission.

While Oresick told WESA Friday that he, other outgoing board members and Wilson were mostly on the same side — they both oppose the Oakland Crossings project — they were at odds with how to approach the situation. Oresick claimed Wilson’s outspoken behavior could “burn key bridges and hurt OPDC's long-term ability to advocate for residents.”

Oresick said the board took an internal stance against her public statements and was met with animosity from Wilson. “The board didn't think this position — no more name-calling — was controversial,” he said. “But Wanda responded to the board with hostility, and the relationship deteriorated from there.”

Another resigning board member, Abass Kamara, said the tension between some board members and OPDC leadership had been an issue for about a year. He worries aggressive campaigns against certain projects in the neighborhood could impact the corporation’s reputation.

“With so much of the work that OPDC’s doing, having a seat at a lot of tables matters,” Kamara said. “I thought the tenor and tone kind of put OPDC in the position where folks wouldn’t want to work with them.”

Kamara and Oresick also criticized what they saw as OPDC prioritizing the appointment of board members who live in Oakland. Neither former board member is an Oakland resident.

Eric Macadangdang, OPDC’s board secretary, said in a statement that OPDC “took a fresh approach to prioritizing equity and diversity in our programming and centering the needs of Oakland’s most vulnerable residents.”

Macadangdang said the group would continue to focus on the future of the neighborhood despite the shakeup. “This was not an outcome any of us desired, but we are invigorated with OPDC’s renewed commitment to building an Oakland that helps all its neighbors thrive,” he said.

Kiley Koscinski covers city government, policy and how Pittsburghers engage with city services. She also works as a fill-in host for All Things Considered. Kiley has previously served as a producer on The Confluence and Morning Edition.