A special meeting was held last week at the Mt. Washington Senior Center to discuss what’s going on with the iconic One Grandview Avenue land parcel.
The land, which has been held by Sycamore Grandview Development for approximately five years, was supposed to be the site of a new hotel venture, but plans changed. And the team on the project convened last Tuesday night to present to the community the fundamental aspects of its new plans for this iconic location.
On hand were members of the agencies and companies involved in the consulting, planning and management of the project, though most of the discussion was led by Charles “Luke” Desmone and Terry Oden of Desmone & Associates, who each delivered presentations on the finer details of the plan.
Supplemented by input from Sycamore’s Vice President Beau Beemsterboer, the men explained the property, no longer designated for hotel space, is planned for use as the site of an upscale 300-unit apartment building. The apartments, most of which will be two-bedroom units with fewer one-bedroom units and studios, will be distributed throughout three buildings. A fourth building will also sit on the land, and will be dedicated to commercial use as a restaurant.
The buildings themselves will stand nine stories above ground, and up to five stories below, and will be set so the scale is broken down into nine or ten pieces that flutter across the top in a way making the size of the complex, as a whole, comparable to existing housing heights.
Together, the four buildings will occupy less than half of the four acres of land in the lot, and will be centered around a courtyard where pool facilities and access to a gym and recreation room will be provided. The courtyard will open up to corridors between the buildings, creating walking paths and views of the city, said Mr. Oden.
The open space element will continue down the mountain, in a series of cascading courtyards with kinetic features. Also cascading down the mountain will be the underground parking, which will contain 500 parking spaces to be used by residents and employees and visitors to the restaurant.
Mr. Oden said the 4,000-square-foot multi-level restaurant also presents the opportunity for a 2,000-square-foot deck, which would be the largest outdoor dining area open to the public in Mt. Washington.
The restaurant building would be at the corner of the property closest to Grandview Avenue, adjacent to the entry pavilion for the rest of the complex. Another entry point to the complex will be on Sycamore Street, though that entrance will be used mostly to access the parking garage.
Also speaking of Sycamore Street, Mr. Desmone said while non-residents will be permitted to stroll through the complex, the short-cut many commuters take through the property to Sycamore will not be maintained, as the City of Pittsburgh has indicated it will not repair the city steps.
As far as design elements for the impending project, the team said the buildings will incorporate perforated metals, wood, masonry work, and, of course, a large quantity of glass, as well as greenspace and sustainability tools like green roofs and storm water management ducts. Screens, kinetic features, and functional art will be used for contrast and dynamic appeal.
After presenting information on the team’s plans, the floor was opened for a questions and comments. Several people praised Sycamore’s vision of turning a vacant site into something with practical use, and commended Mr. Beemsterboer for demolishing the dilapidated remnants of The Edge’s former glory before being ready to break ground on anything new.
The majority of questions and comments, however, were of a more critical nature. Among the primary concerns residents raised were the lack of “oomph” they found in the new plans and the potential parking problems they foresaw.
As per the presence of the plan, numerous people said they didn’t think this new project would bring enough to the area. Stressing the high visibility of the parcel from all city directions and noting its strength as an access point to local businesses, many expressed concern the new proposal would create just another blip on the radar and not attract the attention the beautiful site deserves.
They also expressed concerns having housing in the spot, rather than something more commercial, would not generate the same amount of business and employment opportunities in the neighborhood. Multiple times, members of the audience stated they preferred Mr. Beemsterboer’s original plan of putting a hotel-condo operation on the site.
To address these comments, Mr. Beemsterboer said he too had hoped to see the operation there, but the economic climate prevented it. He explained when he originally proposed the hotel-condo project, the market was entirely different. Since that time, he furthered, the economy has changed so drastically it has made such a project unfeasible.
Rather than leave the property a vacant, unused pile of dirt, Mr. Beemsterboer said he decided to be more proactive and bring both form and function to the lot.
Questioning both the form and the function of parking on the parcel, several people stated they did not believe 500 parking spots was enough to accommodate 300 apartment units, noting the frequency with which two car owners co-inhabit the same apartment.
The team assured the audience the results of three separate parking studies showed there was ample parking, and added another parking study was currently underway. The results of this fourth study, Mr. Desmone said, will be determinative in the final number of parking spaces, which could include up to an additional 75 spots.
Still yet, members of the audience were not convinced and were concerned these studies did not reflect reality, particularly considering the restaurant, which also raised concerns of traffic. A few people stated they were worried traffic, to get into the parking lot to visit the eatery, would end up wrapping around the corner and cause congestion.
To this, Mr. Desmone responded traffic would be an issue for any enterprise located there, including the previous hotel plan so many residents approved of, and at least the traffic would mean there was increased business in the area, which, he reminded them, was something they said they desired.
Other people stated they thought the plans created what appeared to be a bunker, quad or barrack that was blocked off from the rest of the community, did not fit in with the surrounding area, and did not create a feeling of connectedness or cohesion. Dealing with these criticisms, Mr. Oden restated many of the design features noted above and told the audience the project is still in very early development and would be updated in ways that would address these, and other, concerns, including those about the “wow factor” of the complex.
A number of residents asked questions about safety. One man asked how fire trucks would get to the buildings, which Mr. Desmone said would be through the Sycamore Street entrance, which will be large enough to accommodate any and all response vehicles.
A retired policewoman in attendance asked if there would be private security on the grounds, or if Pittsburgh Police would be called for all matters, further straining an already strained force. Mr. Desmone replied this issue is still under consideration.
Another thing Mr. Desmone said the team will consider was a suggestion from the audience. One member suggested the building size be altered so that each building is smaller in width but greater in height, so as to create wider corridors between the buildings and provide better views.
The final question the team addressed was what comes next. Mr. Desmone said there will be a public meeting before the Planning Commission on Oct. 15, and a public zoning hearing for the new plan on Oct. 29.
As far as why the plan must be presented at a zoning hearing, Kevin McKegan, council for the project, said the land is zoned for special planning, and whenever a change is made to the project plan for a property zoned for special planning it must go before the commission for approval.
Mr. Desmone invited those interested to attend the hearing, or, if unable to attend, to write a letter to commission before Oct. 29 expressing any concerns they may have regarding the proposed plan. When asked if there would be another public meeting held in Mt. Washington before the plan goes to hearing, Mr. Desmone said there was not one scheduled.
He said, however, that’d he’d be willing to put one on the calendar, though he would not be willing to allow it to stand in the way of the project’s momentum.