November 17, 2009 |

Grandview Ave. hotel/condo complex passes hurdle on way to construction

The preliminary land development plan and requested zoning change for the hotel/condo complex proposed for One Grandview next to the Mon Valley Incline was approved by the Pittsburgh Planning Commission and now moves on to Pittsburgh City Council for approval.

J.T. Smith, board president of the Mount Washington Community Development Corporation, said he has attended many recent neighborhood meetings in which he heard developers explain their plans to build a hotel/condo complex to replace the former Edge restaurant located adjacent to the Mon Valley Incline.

"I feel that I can give their presentation at this point," he said.

Mr. Smith, MWCDC Executive Director Chris Beichner, and board members Frank Valenta and Tom Brady told the City Planning Commission at a hearing November 10 that those plans have the complete support of the MWCDC. "We stand behind this magnificent project," Mr. Beichner said and many residents also voiced their approval.

However, a minority of local residents said the right questions weren't asked and more study needed to be done.

At the hearing's conclusion the Planning Commission gave unanimous approval both to the preliminary land development plan and a requested zoning change. City Council will vote on approval and the rezoning and the Planning Commission could again consider the matter and vote on a final land development plan.

"We are going to build it all at once. Not in phases. We'll start when the financing is in place," Steven Beemsterboer, one of the developers, said. Architect Luke Desmone said the financing would all be private money, not tax increment financing.

The zoning for the four acres would change from three categories – local neighborhood commercial, residential high density and Grandview public realm – to one, a mix of residential and commercial planned unit development.

Plans call for 110 hotel rooms, 55 condos and garage parking for 388 cars. The complex will include a spa and a greenhouse that will provide herbs for restaurants located there.

Mr. Desmone said he envisioned the Trimont and the as-of-yet unnamed complex he designed for One Grandview Avenue as "bookends" for the area.

"We're not going to pretend that we have unanimous support," said Kevin McKeegan, an attorney for the developers.

Lynne Squilla called the project a "monster."

"The MWCDC board is not doing its due diligence. It is not representing the community. They don't get it. They're not supposed to endorse projects. That's not their job. The CDC is supposed to ask hard questions on behalf of the residents. This project will affect this place in a big way with the traffic and parking. It is a big dream for a small site," she said.

"It's as if the William Penn Hotel, The LeMont, the Georgetowne Inn and L.A. Fitness were all perched along a site next to the Incline," Ms. Squilla said.

"You would have had unanimous approval if the scale had been somewhat smaller," Richard Monninger said. "This will forever change this area in a negative way."

Harry Edgos said he was upset with the design which he called "an ego trip."

Other residents complained that the proposed complex would block part of their view from Grandview Avenue.

Mr. Valenta, an enthusiastic supporter, gave the Planning Commission a petition with 1,501 signatures in favor of the new project.

"It's the smart thing to do for the city. It's the right thing to do," John Shorall, of the Grandview Condo Association, said.

"I'll tell you a story from 25 years ago," Ralph St. Clair said. He recalled a family of tourists asking him if a hotel was available on the Mount because they wanted to stay near the view.

Alan Komm talked about past city projects that didn't work out. "This is one grand vision that should happen."

Nina Trout said she thought the complex would have a positive impact on local businesses.

A representative of Trans Associates talked about their traffic study commissioned by the developers. "The count is 3,000 [cars] a day. That is typical for a residential community."

A planning commissioner asked if 1,000 more cars were added, "would it work?" "Yes" was the answer.

"This is one of the better presentations we've had," planning commissioner E. Paul Dick said.

Another commissioner, Kirk Burkley, said it took courage to voice an unpopular opinion at a public meeting. "No one should criticize these people."

Mr. Dick said he once did the same thing and took an unpopular stand at a meeting he attended. "If you don't speak out, nobody is going to do it for you."

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