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Pittsburgh officials advance the conversion of offices to homes

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Noah Brode
/
90.5 WESA

Empty offices in Downtown Pittsburgh could become new homes more quickly under a proposal approved unanimously by the city Planning Commission on Tuesday.

“Additional residential growth presents an opportunity to create a more resilient neighborhood with active, vibrant streets that can support a dynamic retail environment,” said Bruce Chan, senior director of urban design for the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership. He noted that compared to other cities, Pittsburgh continues to rely heavily on office space to generate business activity and tax dollars.

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The COVID-19 pandemic rewrote the fortunes of Downtown; while the city’s 2021 Popular Annual Financial Report found that the city was making strides in its recovery from the virus, City Controller Michael Lamb described parking garages that remain “less than half full” on weekdays.

“Updating this zoning code will begin to counter declining office occupancy,” Chan said.

Under existing regulations, converting offices to residences requires a full review by the Planning Commission. The proposed amendments would mean only projects over $250,000 would require commission input. Smaller projects would work solely with staff in the Department of City Planning.

The changes now go to City Council for consideration.

In July, Mayor Ed Gainey announced that his administration would join with Allegheny County and state officials to jumpstart such conversions. The aim of all the government parties, who pledged $9 million to the effort, is to create mixed-income housing.

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 mkrauss@wesa.fm.