Residents questions new Wharton St. development
Neighbors complain about traffic, views, property values
Edwards Communities Development Company's proposal to build a 316-unit apartment building on Wharton Street was met with opposition from neighborhood residents at a community meeting last week. The proposal is scheduled to go before the Pittsburgh Zoning Board this week.
A proposed 316-unit apartment complex planned for Wharton St. near the Birmingham Bridge in the South Side Flats is drawing nearby residents' complaints about obstruction of views, increased traffic, lowered property values, and destruction of the fabric of the neighborhood.
A community meeting on the project was held on Jan. 4 at the Brashear Center, and featured representatives of the developer, Edwards Communities Development Co ., of Columbus, Ohio.
On Jan. 12, a Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) hearing on the proposal will be held at 9:10 a.m. in the first floor conference room, 200 Ross St ., Downtown.
At the Jan. 4 meeting, city Councilman Bruce Kraus said the three special exceptions being sought by the developer may be addressed by residents at the ZBA hearing.
If unable to attend, he asked that residents give letters to him or Barbara Rudiak, of the South Side Community Council, which they will submit to the board.
The three special exceptions are: multi-unit residential in an urban industrial zoning district; for height, as five stories are proposed (four stories residential and one story integral parking), and a maximum of four stories and 60-feet is permitted; and building length, as 500-feet is the limit in the Riverfront Interim Planning Overlay District (IPOD), and 536-feet is requested.
A decision by the ZBA will be rendered within 45 to 60 days. It may be appealed to Common Pleas Court.
Concerns about traffic, the design of the building, and more may be addressed at a future Planning Commission meeting, Mr. Kraus said.
Real estate attorney Lafe Metz, of Buchanan Ingersoll Rooney, said the development team rescheduled the ZBA hearing from Dec. 8 at the community's request so the traffic study could be completed.
He also said the evening's meeting was the 12th community outreach with various stakeholders, like the Mayor's Office, Riverlife's Design Review Committee, South Side Community Council, URA, Dept. of Public Works, and others.
The development is planned for the northern side of Wharton St. between 23rd and 24th streets.
To accommodate the project, the Atlas Materials Recycling Corp. building and two small rented buildings would be razed. A parking lot, small lot, and loading area for the site would also be eliminated.
Edwards Communities has the site under agreement to buy.
About 75 percent of the apartments will be one-bedroom and studio; the rest will be two-bedroom. Studios' rent will begin at under $1,000 and range to $1,150. One-bedrooms will cost $1,150 to $1,400; and two-bedrooms, $1,850 to $2,200. Parking is an additional fee.
"This is not student-type housing," said Hope Sherman, vice president, land acquisition and development, Edwards Communities.
At a Nov. 29 community meeting on the matter, the issue was raised as to whether Edwards Communities would commit to excluding the project from the city's Residential Permit Parking Program.
At the Jan. 4 meeting, attorney Shawn Gallagher, of Buchanan Ingersoll Rooney, said Edwards Communities has no objection to agreeing that it will not take action to be included in any residential permit parking zone.
Traffic concerns were also raised at the Nov. 29 meeting.
At the Jan. 4 meeting, traffic engineer Jeff DePaolis, of Civil and Environmental Consultants, said he studied the Carson and Wharton streets' intersections as directed by the city, and there would be a "minor impact" with the development.
"We don't make things worse along Carson St.," he said.
But Ms. Rudiak said Sidney St. at 23rd and 24th streets should have been studied as vehicles use Sidney St. to avoid the lights on Carson St.
"It is sometimes a drag race there," an attendee who resides in the 23rd block of Sidney St. said. But the traffic engineer did not study that particular area.
"It causes me concern to have a master development behind our home," the resident said.
In his brief presentation, architect Stephen Caplinger of Creative Design + Planning, a subsidiary of Edwards Communities, said "this is the kind of community we like to come into."
He said most of the exterior of the building will be brick, and the parking garage will look like part of the building.
The streetscape will be very "pedestrian-friendly," with seating, trees, and lighting. Building setbacks will be 10-feet which, he said, is more than the city requires.
Amenities for tenants include a clubhouse, fitness facility, and swimming pool. Most apartments will have balconies.
There will be a trash chute, with dumpsters taken to the street by staff on garbage day, and then removed to limit visibility.
Mr. Kraus said there are about 50 percent rentals in the Flats today, whereas home ownership used to reign. He asked if there was ever a consideration to build single-family homes for sale.
Mr. Kraus also said the view of the riverfront is great for homes, and for the property values there.
Ms. Sherman said "for sale" builders is not in their business model. "It is not what we do," she said.
She said Edwards Communities has construction and management companies on all projects.
"We stay involved from the minute we buy the land," she said.
To a question of how she views the neighborhood, she said it "has a very cohesive peace and a culture."
"It is a neighborhood that very much retains its character and quality, and is evolving into the 21st century," she said. People looking to rent in the Flats are in search of that character and quality, and that is who they build for, she added.
Ms. Sherman said the developer checked out the Strip District, but that it is not a "real" neighborhood that they like to build in.
"You will destroy property values for us," said the Sidney street resident, who also said she can sit in her house and see the Cathedral of Learning and more.
"You're not adding to our neighborhood.
"We prefer you build elsewhere," she said.
To a question of reducing the height by eight feet, Mr. Gallagher said it is "not economically feasible."
"It's either 60 feet or nothing," he said.
Ms. Sherman said a 52-feet high building would still block the view; to not do so, a two-story building would be required.
"We don't build single-family homes or townhouses," she said.