It was "show and tell" time when it was Mount Washington resident Allan Komm's turn to speak at a city council hearing on January 20 regarding a hotel/condominium project planned at One Grandview Avenue.
Mr. Komm was one of a crowd of enthusiastic Mount Washington supporters of Developer Steven Beemsterboer's plans to erect an 18-story building with 110 hotel rooms, 50 condos and a parking garage with 440 spaces. Council plans to vote Feb. 2 on a zoning change that will allow the project to commence.
Mr. Komm showed the members of council a 1916 guidebook that his wife had obtained. It was titled "Pittsburgh: How to See It" and was published by a local publishing firm, William G. Johnston, he said. "It shows an intrepid person in 1916 with binoculars, chauffeur and touring car standing on Grandview Avenue…But as the smoke lifted in Pittsburgh in the 50s the full potential became evident."
He mentioned how Grandview Avenue now attracts many, many tourists eager to gaze at the downtown view and said that with this project Pittsburgh will finally realize the full potential of the area.
If approved, zoning for the 3.94 acres would change from three designations – Grandview Public Realm, Local Neighborhood Commercial and Residential High Density – to Residential/Commercial Planned Unit Development.
The complex will include a fitness center and greenhouse providing herbs for two restaurants that will be located there.
During his remarks the developer's attorney, Kevin McKeegan, responded to critics of the project who quibbled that it was not feasible. "If it was not feasible Mr. Beemsterboer wouldn't have spent five years and several thousand dollars on architects, attorneys and civil engineers…It is a world class project…Nothing will happen on this site if the project stalls."
"I don't take this lightly. I look on this as the finest developable site in Pittsburgh," Mr. Beemsterboer said.
A minority of the 35 speakers protested that they favored development at that location but thought the project's scale to be too large.
"Use your common sense," Kevin Brown told council. "Go take a look at where the project is going to be…Think of the precedent you'll set."
"I'm in favor of development there. I'm not aware of anybody against it," Anthony Mistretta said. But he pointed out that nearby Sycamore Avenue was narrow and winding. "People call it Burma Road."
Jamini Davies objected to the "immensity" of the proposed building and said that the planning commission which gave preliminary approval should have asked tougher questions.
"It is still too big for our fragile hills. We're not there yet…A smaller hotel would be much more appropriate," Lynne Squilla said.
Members of several trade guilds endorsed both the project and the credentials of architect Luke Desmone and the developer.
Some residents answered the critics. Harris Ferris, executive director, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, said that some great innovative ideas are often attacked when first proposed – such as Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater. He noted that the Wall Street Journal said Mount Washington has one of the finest urban views.
He also said that the developer originally considered having 300 hotel rooms and, in response to residents, opted for 100 instead. Mr. Ferris thought it might not be feasible to operate with less than 100 rooms.
"You can't run a business, like a theater, if there's not enough seats. And you can't run a hotel if there's not enough rooms," Mr. Ferris said. "I do hope this goes forth."
"This is something that people will talk about for years," Reed Pirain said.
"This will be a well conceived, beautiful development," Nicholas Vrcic said.
Dianne Petronko said she lived on Grandview Avenue and the residents will be pleased to have 400 additional parking spaces.
At the hearing's conclusion Councilman Bruce Kraus said, "I had a good feeling about this project from the beginning. There was great attention being paid to detail. I understand about traffic problems. Call our office with your concerns. I'm going to support this. It is absolutely the right thing to do."
Council member Theresa Kail-Smith who chaired the hearing said she also supported it and also wanted to work with residents about concerns.