South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Tom Smith
South Pittsburgh Reporter Editor 

Developer hits resistance on proposed Hackstown housing development


Developers are looking at building as many as 27 new homes on a parcel of hillside land on the South Side Slopes between St. Paul of the Cross Monastery and Veronica’s Veil.

In a meeting facilitated by the South Side Slopes Neighborhood Association, Justin Cipriani, from Cipriani Studios, spoke last week before several dozen Slopes residents to explain plans for the property and hear their concerns, and there were concerns.

Cipriani Studios will act as the architects and developers on the property Synergy Capital is purchasing. The project includes as many as 27 new, modern homes built into the hillside. The development is proposing to extend Hackstown Street and connecting it with either or both Magdelene and Gregory streets.

Mr. Cipriani said previous developers who were interested in building on the property proposed to extend Hacktown and keep it as a cul-de-sac. He, however, felt that would put too much pressure on Hackstown as the only way in and out, for both construction and eventually residents.

He said once the development was in place, he expected other developers would look at Magdelene Street to fill in empty or vacant lots with new housing. With the utilities already in place, the street becomes more viable once it connects through to Hackstown.

Mr. Cipriani explained because of the Hillside Zoning of the area, they are only permitted to build on 50 percent of the property, the rest must remain undeveloped. Preliminary drawings illustrate the possibility for 27 single-family homes to be built on the property and still have the required five foot setback between units.

The homes will be constructed similar to duplexes with two units put side by side but without a shared wall and a slight space between them. He expected the units would have a similar modern external look as homes he has recently built in Mount Washington and is constructing in Allentown adjoining Grandview Park.

Looking at the studies that have been done on housing in the Slopes, he said they would be using natural materials for the exterior, lots of glass to take advantage of the views and earthy tones for colors.

Most of the units would be built on 20’ x 100’ lots and have internal and off-street parking for as many as three cars each.

“I think by building on only half the parcel and trying to really slip the houses in sort of the tree corridor is kind of the intent and keep the quality of the experience that’s there now when there’s houses. And how these little houses will fit in the (tree) canopies is kind of the brand we think would attract buyers who would want to buy and live there,” Mr. Cipriani said.

He then opened the floor up for input and comments from the Slopes residents.

The first comment was a question asking if they had completed a traffic study for the area yet.

Michael Andrewsh, PE, senior design/traffic engineer for David E. Wooster and Associates, replied a study wasn’t required by the city in the planning stage of development, although they will be required to have one in the future.

“Have you planned how you’re getting your equipment through there? Have you planned how you’re going to get 50 more cars through there? Have you planned the fact that the street isn’t wide enough to park on both sides of the street,” he was asked. “People cannot pass one another.”

“Well, they have to follow any standard the city requires at this point,” Mr. Andrewsh replied.

“I understand the city has certain things in place to protect the neighbors and our places. But as people planning to put money into a beautiful project, how are you going to do it,” a Magdelene Street resident asked.

Mr. Cipriani replied that was the biggest concern.

“We have this little infrastructure, it’s a little street and we’re going into this big project,” he said.

“Without downplaying it, it doesn’t move the needle,” Mr. Cipriani continued adding that in the scheme of traffic control, a development of 27 new homes is small. The room of Slopes residents erupted in disagreement.

Mr. Cipriani said it will be the contractor’s job to figure out how to get materials in and out.

Several residents pointed out the city isn’t able to get full size garbage trucks and fire engines down Magdelene and Hackstown streets and they still didn’t understand how a contractor will get big equipment in and out.

Other Magdelene and Hackstown streets residents said they were happy living on dead end streets and prefer the peace and quiet it brings.

Mr. Andrewsh said for a traffic study to even be justified, they would need at least 100 peak hour vehicles with peak hours being between 7-9 a.m. and 4-6 p.m. He didn’t think 27 new homes would generate more than 20 cars during those hours.

His response brought another outburst of protests from the residents who replied opening the street would generate “cut through” traffic from people wanting to avoid Carson Street traffic and that they are already affected adversely when the college students return to school.

Other residents in the impacted area were concerned about having their property taxes go up because of the new development. Mr. Cipriani agreed after ten years or so, it was probable property values in the area would rise.

One Hackstown resident told him, “we’re going to keep you out of here anyway we can. We don’t want you here.”

Mr. Cipriani was told his project, like the other proposals for the land in the past, contained too many homes for the street. When asked what the right number of homes would be, the resident said he didn’t know the answer.

A Huron Street resident was concerned about gentrification of the neighborhood.

“When developments like this happen, people are not committed to the neighborhood. They come and change the culture of the neighborhood. There goes your culture. There goes your community,” she said. “I’m not comfortable with it. I don’t think anything you say will help me be comfortable with it.”

The Slopes residents continued to complain to Mr. Cipriani about the size of the development, lack of access and the narrow streets that would have increased traffic.

Before adjourning for the evening, several residents promised to be present at any zoning hearings to protest the project. Others spoke about hiring attorneys to help in their fight.


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