A plan to build 162 apartments next to Frick Park is on hold for a month
It will be another month before Pittsburgh officials take up a divisive proposal to redevelop the former Irish Centre in Squirrel Hill. The project was scheduled for a hearing before the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment, or ZBA, on June 1, but is now slated for consideration on July 6.
And when it happens, the discussion may be contentious.
“It’s a tricky one,” City Councilor Barb Warwick, who represents the area, said of the issue.
The sprawling community center is tucked into a curve of Forward Avenue as it runs under I-376 and along the border of Frick Park and Nine Mile Run. (It then becomes Commercial Street.) Toronto-based developer Craft General hopes to replace the existing building and pool with 162 apartments on top of two floors of parking.
Warwick said she’s heard from numerous concerned community members. While the site isn’t exactly pristine wilderness, it is zoned as park space. And there are reasons to think its future tenants would be heavily dependent on cars: Transit doesn’t serve the area, and so far, the proposed apartments don’t include any units that are affordable to people who earn less than median income.
Warwick said those factors have prompted concerns about traffic safety and potential impacts to Frick Park.
“[The proposal] deserves a more extensive, concentrated discussion before any final decisions are made by the zoning board,” Warwick said.
Warwick had asked the ZBA to postpone the hearing for that reason, but a technical error required it to be rescheduled anyway.
Maria Cohen, who leads the Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition, welcomed the delay.
“We just really want to ensure that whatever happens is the best for the community and all voices are heard in this,” she said.
In response to community concerns, Craft General vice president Larry Regan said Squirrel Hill, and Pittsburgh more generally, need more housing.
“Any growth is positive,” he said. “When there’s no growth in new construction, the market becomes stagnant and nothing really happens.”
Regan said the company has yet to decide if there will be any affordable apartments, and that traffic is already a problem.
“That traffic concern needs to be dealt with, it’s not generated by us,” he said.
In fact, traffic concerns in the area first attracted public attention nearly 60 years ago. When the Irish Centre of Pittsburgh, Inc. petitioned the city to construct its community building in 1966, a vote on the issue was delayed because of objections about hazards along the main link between Squirrel Hill and Swisshelm Park. (Others worried alcoholic beverages would be served on site).
Two weeks later, the city approved the Irish Centre’s plan and “suggested the club resolve its entrance and exit problems with the City’s traffic engineer,” according to a June 1, 1966 article in the Pittsburgh Press.
Before the July 6 hearing, Warwick said she is working to convene a task force of affected stakeholders who will meet to discuss concerns.