December 7, 2010 |

City drops complaints against Mount developer Craig Cozza

Anyone who has attended a Mount Washington Community Development Corporation community forum meeting during the past several years has probably heard complaints about developer Craig Cozza.

Residents at practically every meeting griped that two undeveloped properties owned by Mr. Cozza had become public eyesores – particularly one property bordered by Grandview Avenue and Sweetbriar and Augusta streets where Mr. Cozza once intended to build a high rise complex with 37 condos.

In July, District Magisterial Judge James Motznik fined Mr. Cozza $8,000 over property violations on the 1400 block of Grandview. The developer then announced his decision to appeal the matter to a higher court.

Recently, Mr. Cozza and his representatives have met with the city's Bureau of Building Inspections staff, which has now decided to drop the citations against him.

"He did everything that we asked him to do," John Jennings, acting chief, BBI, said.

He said the project had been "in and out of phases of development for several years" and BBI was concerned about temporary shoring that had been installed for adjoining property. Mr. Cozza has now provided shoring to stabilize the property and added fencing to prevent anyone from falling in the hole.

"One of our inspectors was satisfied he has done everything that was required of him," Mr. Jennings said.

Jim Nolan, one of the Mount residents who often complained, said he still isn't satisfied but admitted Mr. Cozza corrected the shoring problem.

"Look at it this way. Mount Washington has a system of parks with a new name, Emerald View Park. And nearby you have his two properties that have been undeveloped for years. They are two of the best properties in the city of Pittsburgh (because of their proximity to the Grandview Avenue view)," Mr. Nolan said.

Frustrated by the lack of development and what they perceived to be lack of maintenance, Mr. Nolan and other residents had originally sought assistance from the MWCDC and City Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith. MWCDC executive director Chris Beichner told the board months ago his was a fresh viewpoint, that he had no previous conflicts with Mr. Cozza and he felt he could work with him.

As a result of the intervention efforts by Mr. Beichner and the councilwoman, Mr. Cozza met with board members of the MWCDC in June.

At that time Mr. Cozza said he loved the Mount and had lived there and had coached teams there. He alluded to past lawsuits and challenges by residents. "Something always came along to stop us."

He said the condo market was not great right now and the banks did not have much faith such projects would be completed. He said he was frustrated because he was used to successful completion of his plans. "I never had this experience before." He said he hoped to use "value engineering" to lower his costs for developing the sites.

On the property at that time there was a crumbling, cracked sidewalk in front of a fenced area containing weeds and piles of dirt and shale. Mr. Cozza contended he had not dumped on the property.

In an interview last week with the South Pittsburgh Reporter Mr. Cozza again said he loved the neighborhood and was a Mount Washington advocate.

"If we get the right environment we will get the project started again."

He said he and his attorney met on site with BBI. "They came out to inspect again, there were a few more tweaks and we were done."

He said he installed a new sidewalk that cost more than the $8,000 he had been fined. The fines have now been dropped.

Mr. Cozza has been involved in projects in Monroeville, Brentwood, Squirrel Hill and Carnegie.

"I appreciate the time Mr. Cozza has invested in meeting the city's requirements. I personally think that there is still more that he could do," Mr. Beichner said last week.

He said he wanted the fence repaired so students from the Art Institute could display murals on it. That has been a class project for the students this semester.

"We still want to work with Mr. Cozza…There is still tweaking that needs to be done," Mr. Beichner said.

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