Revised plans for a controversial condominium project on the former police station/jailhouse property — including reducing the units from 15 to 9 — were presented to a standing-room-only audience at the March 11 meeting of the South Side Planning Forum.
Landmark Property Development LLC was seeking the forum's support prior to its appearance before the city Zoning Board of Adjustment on March 27.
The developer is requesting a variance to go from one non-conforming use to another.
Forum Chair Hugh Brannan asked forum members to confer with their respective organizations on the matter, and report back by March 24. A consensus must be reached for the forum to take a public stand on an issue.
In the presentation, Greg Harkins, co-owner of Landmark Property Development, said the revised plans for the 1300 block of Sarah St. cut back the size of the building, density, and the number of units originally proposed. Green space is added.
The parking ratio is also improved: 14 spaces for 9 units. The zoning code requires one space per unit.
There will be two curb cuts. “We're trying to put the least stress on the street for parking,” said Mr. Harkins.
The color of the brick will also be conducive to the surroundings, he said. The developer has been working with the Design Committee of the South Side Local Development Co.
The two-bedroom units are expected to sell for more than $250,000. They are not designed for college students or rentals, said Mr. Harkins.
Architect and resident Gerald Lee Morosco questioned why the plans call for only a single stairwell. That violates the national building code, he said, and “calls into question the whole presentation.”
The project's attorney, Thomas Ayoob III, said the point will be addressed to the project architect. If a change must be made, it will be, he said.
He called it “an unfair characterization” to question the entire presentation over the matter.
Another stairwell, said Mr. Harkins, will change the internal floor plan and perhaps cause the loss of one parking space. “But it won't affect the community at large,” he said. The exterior appearance will not change.
Alina Keebler expressed concerns about the height, saying the photographs were not to scale and deceiving.
Mr. Harkins denied it, adding “we're not messing with the Taj Mahal here,” referring to the former run-down commercial structure.
The height remains unchanged at 40 feet — which is allowable — as in the original plan presented at a town hall meeting in early February.
Attendees at that time complained about the height, parking, building design, facade, density, appropriateness for the neighborhood, and the company which demolished the old police station.
Concerns raised at the forum meeting included the impact on the neighborhood, and parking during construction.
Mr. Harkins told Sarah Leimkuehler, a neighbor of the development and the mother of a toddler who fears having to park far away due to construction workers' vehicles to call the office and they will try to work something out.
There was also a question about the adjacent dilapidated home. In the original plan the developer proposed to purchase the additional parcel with a single-family house and demolish the building.
Mr. Ayoob said acquiring it created other zoning issues. As the sense was the community did not want a bigger development, the matter was dropped.
Mr. Harkins concluded the presentation by saying while there was a lot of opposition at the start, he hopes they get credit for being willing to listen and incorporate criticisms.
In the presentation which kicked off the meeting, Andrew Moss, of Moss Architects, discussed his clients' plans to erect a three-story building, with a one-story wing, in a 40-feet by 72-feet wide vacant double lot at 143-145 S. 22nd St.
The structure will be single-family, owner occupied.
A neighbor in attendance voiced his objection that he won't be able to make the turn to park a car due to the plan's garage.
He is asking the applicants, Jeff and Erin Catalina, to cut three feet off the garage. If they do so, he won't fight their front setback, which also requires a zoning variance.
The couple wants to build up to the sidewalk.
In their March 27 date at the city Zoning Board of Adjustment, 200 Ross St ., they will be seeking two zoning variances for two setbacks.
In the evening's third and final presentation, attorney Louis Caputo and client Durid Aboud discussed the Aboud family's plan to open a 65-seat Mediterranean restaurant at 2126 Carson St. The building formerly housed a bakery.
The goal is to open the restaurant, to be called Babads, in three months. Babads, Inc. applied for a liquor license in November, 2006, which was granted in May, 2007.
Because a liquor license was never held on the site before, the Aboud family must file for a conditional use permit and appear before the Zoning Board of Adjustment. The next step would then be approval of city council.
A city ordinance adopted last year requires new licensees to undergo an extensive public process designed to halt the spread of bars on the South Side.
The conditional use hearing has yet to be scheduled.
Mr. Aboud's family has owned and operated Ba Ba D's Restaurant, 3531 Forbes Ave ., in Oakland, for the past 10 years. Their intention is to close the Oakland restaurant once the South Side restaurant opens, but no timetable has been set.
The Oakland restaurant does not have a liquor license.
The family plans to open the new restaurant, without alcohol, if the liquor license has not yet been approved.
Mr. Caputo said they were there to inform the forum of their plans, and solicit community feedback.
“We're looking to be good neighbors,” he said.
Mr. Caputo said that unlike the 600-occupancy bars residents are objecting to, the new establishment will be foremost a restaurant.
“We believe that a liquor license is an asset to our business, and will allow us to be more profitable and competitive.” The latest it would be open would probably be midnight, said Mr. Aboud. There would be no live entertainment, or loud music, he said.
Mr. Caputo said they would provide the forum with floor plans and menus.
Susan McCoy, of the Community Task Force, said their attempt with the ordinance was “not to stop a good restaurant from opening and serving alcohol.”
Too often, she said, new businesses move in and say they are going to do one thing and do another.
“We want you to be involved with us from the beginning,” she said.
In the LTV report, Rick Belloli, executive director of the South Side LDC, said the widening of East Carson St. between 25th and 34th streets is expected to begin in September. The cost is $10—$11 million.
It will be a difficult balancing act, he said, as the project will take two years, with stoppages at Thanksgiving so as not to impact Christmas shopping.
A town meeting on the project may be held in July.
The South Side Chamber of Commerce is expected to take a position within the next 10 days on the South Side Neighborhood Plan update. The other forum member organizations have said they support the update.
There are rumors that a special event permit was applied for from the city in January for an event in July. However, it was never sent to the forum.
The city agreed in late 2007 to forward such permits to the forum for a subcommittee to review prior to issuance. So far, none has been sent. The forum will look into the matter.
Regarding Pittsburgh's 250th Anniversary celebration in 2008, Mr. Belloli said the South Side route is still unclear.
On June 28, the “American Eagle Outfitters Tour of Pennsylvania presented by Highmark Healthy High 5” bike race will pass through the South Side.
Local organizations are working on activities designed to promote the district.
Ms. McCoy asked Mr. Belloli to find out if activities are planned by the sponsor at the LTV end of Carson St. If so, the expected 30,000 visitors will need to be drawn down to 10th St ., she said.
The next forum meeting will be on April 8 at 5:30 p.m.