Some Hazelwood Residents Worry A Major Development Won’t Address Critical Needs

Feb 19, 2021

At a public meeting Thursday night, nonprofit developer The Community Builders presented its plan to redevelop 30 parcels of land in Hazelwood’s commercial district.

The intersection of Hazelwood and Second avenues forms a northern gateway to the neighborhood’s business district, and for years community groups have worked with the Urban Redevelopment Authority to set the stage for its revitalization. In early 2020, the URA selected The Community Builders to spearhead the project. The company has a robust history of work in Pittsburgh that includes developments in East Liberty, as well as another project in Hazelwood to convert the former Gladstone Middle School into 53 apartments.  

Their vision for the 4800 block of Second Avenue features 44 affordable apartments above a first-floor cafe and live/work spaces for small business owners. The building is bookended by community space on one side and a larger retail space on the other. The plan also calls for 12 affordable for-sale homes built in partnership with the City of Bridges Community Land Trust.

Hazelwood residents have spent a lot of time creating a community plan and people are eager to move it forward. But, at Thursday’s meeting, people like Rev. Mahari Love worried the marquee project focuses too much on housing and not enough on revitalizing the retail corridor.

“What we don’t have is a nice community that we can go shopping in, that we don’t have to go outside to Homestead or to Greenfield or to Squirrel Hill,” he said.

Michael Wilson agreed.

“It’s beautiful,” he said of the renderings. “But it doesn’t address the food desert and the actual needs of the residents.”

This was the second iteration of the plan. Ken Doyno is with the architecture and urban planning firm Rothschild Doyno Collaborative. He said in this version they tried to respond to a community desire for smaller spaces that allow people to start and own their own small businesses.

“Our hope here is that this really becomes a business incubator type of space, and that’s distinct from getting an outside Family Dollar or large retail presence.”

Doyno said there are other sites in the main street district that could accommodate a large retailer, and that building a base of small businesses could help attract them. He noted that a company like Aldi looks for a certain amount of density that Hazelwood is trying to build back.

In the context of housing, a number of people said Hazelwood is a multi-generational neighborhood for which the planned number of one-bedroom units is not appropriate; there need to be more two- and three-bedroom units.

People asked detailed questions about the affordability levels of the proposed housing: five apartments for people making 20 percent of the area median income, two apartments for people earning 30 percent of the area median income, 17 apartments for people making half of the area median income and the remainder for those who earn 60 percent.

Members of the development team said they want to deliver what the community needs, and asked people to join committees to have a seat at the table moving forward.