Despite a rally and two hours of public comment Tuesday, the Pittsburgh Planning Commission approved a development plan for the former Penn Plaza site in East Liberty. The rally attendees and majority of public speakers were against the plan by LG Realty, urging the commission to only consider a plan that included affordable housing.
The development, dubbed Pennley Park South, will not include any housing. Instead, it will bring more than 300,000 square feet of office and retail space to the corner of Negley Ave. and Penn Ave. Developers are hoping to woo Whole Foods Market back to the site as an anchor tenant after the upscale grocery chain abandoned the development in 2017 due to gentrification concerns raised by Pittsburghers.
Before its demolition, Penn Plaza Apartments sat at the corner and was home to many low-income tenants. In 2015, they were told their leases would not be renewed. The developer, city and nonprofits ultimately helped many of the residents find new homes over an 18-month span, but the event spurred ongoing concerns about gentrification in Pittsburgh.
Activist and City Council District 9 candidate Randall Taylor said if the development plans are realized, he and others won’t hesitate to boycott the retail components.
"Someone has already determined for us what is going to occur, they've already determined when, where and how for us," Taylor said. "And there's a difference coming in this city, because what you're supposed to be here for is for these people."
Commission chairwoman Christine Mondor addressed the concerns of those who spoke out against the development, and was one of two commissioners who voted against approval. But, she said what they were asking could no longer be addressed.
"It's not a tool in our toolbox in this hearing," Mondor said.
In January 2017, the planning commission rejected LG Realty's plans for development. The company appealed those decisions in court resulting in a consent order signed the company, the city and multiple community groups. As part of that agreement, $4 million is expected to be put toward affordable housing in the vicinity of the former Penn Plaza site.
The preliminary land development plan won approval from the planning commission in May 2018 after a similarly long and contentious meeting.