South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Margaret Smyka
Contributing Writer 

Slopes residents question need to have SSW towers exceed height restrictions

 


Following a presentation at the South Side Planning Forum earlier in the evening about a proposed zoning change to allow two 200-ft. condo towers at the SouthSide Works, Mark Dellana, vice president of development for the Soffer Organization, came to the Slopes.

There he presented details of the proposal at the May 9 meeting of the South Side Slopes Neighborhood Association.

This is the second rezoning request to increase height by the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh and the Soffer Organization.

In 2003 the city granted their request which allows erection of a 165-ft. hotel, to be built beside the condos. Guidelines for the site call for maximum heights of about 100 ft.

The two, 75-unit condo buildings would be located along the riverfront, which Mr. Dellana called “a prime piece of property.” He said the towers must reach heights of 200 ft. for a 75-condo capacity per tower.

He said when project planning began more than 10 years ago, community groups said they wanted residents who own their homes — which is what condos offer. New residents are desired as the population of the South Side has decreased from 50,000 in 1950 to 12,000 today.

As an aside, he said a market and a fitness center are still needed at the site. The difficulty in landing a market is that most want surface parking in front. But a market will eventually open, he said, even if they have to parcel off sections of the store to various companies, such as a block for Benkovitz to sell seafood, etc., such as is done in hotels.

He then circulated photographs of the area shot from the Slopes with the superimposed buildings. He said the towers would be tall and not a broad mass, and won't dramatically alter the view from here.

To attendees' concerns that he would be asking for even more height in the future, Mr. Dellana said they are restricted by parking ratio regulations. So, even if zoning allowed up to 800 ft., they would be prohibited from going that high by other restraints.

Another attendee commented that he is afraid a change in height will set a precedent for other developers to ask for a 300-ft. limit.

To a question of whether businesses there are doing well, and whether this is an attempt to place more people in the condos and, therefore, create more customers for the businesses, Mr. Dellana responded that:

Cheesecake Factory has annual sales of about $11 million; retailers around the town square are doing well; Recreational Equipment, Inc., or REI, is doing well; 91 percent of retail is leased.

American Eagle Outfitters, Inc., will establish its world headquarters here, bringing 800 employees and occupying two buildings. “It's a tremendous shot in the arm for the development and South Side,” he said. Other retailers, like the bookstore, are slowing picking up.

Attendee District Justice Gene Ricciardi, a Flats resident, said the SouthSide Works is a heavily subsidized tax increment financing (TIF) district which was intended to blend into the South Side.

He disputed Mr. Dellana's claim that the 100-ft. limit was set for no special reason except that the existing buildings of that height were viewed as the standard.

Mr. Ricciardi said the 100-ft. limit was chosen because tall buildings will affect the visual quality from the Slopes.

You're “breaking the skyline” when you go over 100 ft., he said.

“This should not go if the community does not support it,” he concluded.

SSSNA board member Joe Balaban said he would have voted differently in 2003 if he knew there would be this additional request. At that time, SSSNA board members voted not to oppose the rezoning for the hotel.

SSSNA president Brad Palmisiano said he agreed with Mr. Balaban, and that credibility had been broken.

Mr. Dellana said that, at that time, the high-rise hotel rezoning was sought based on the best information they had at that time. Looking at the condos, and based on the best information they have now, it is best to have the 75 units and, therefore, the greater height.

Similarly, putting in a town square turned out to be a good idea which developed as the project went along. He said the 200-ft. for the condo towers is what the architect came up with, but that that could shrink for various reasons once the architect gets more specific.

Mr. Dellana said the Design Committee of the South Side Local Development Co. informed him they are more concerned about the massing of the condo buildings than about their height.

He also said the Riverlife Task Force approved the text change as long as the quality of the riverfront remains high.

Soffer must present design plans to the SSLDC at every step of the project, he said.

Mr. Dellana said the plan is to appear before the city Planning Commission on May 30, with a hearing 45 days later. The proposal would then go before city council in the fall.

He invited residents to come to a meeting and voice their opinion if it differs from that of South Side groups. They may also stop in his office above the Hot Metal Grille to see a model of the entire site, including the condo towers.

Mr. Palmisiano said the rezoning is something the group has to decide if it supports.

The next meeting will be on June 13 at the St. Paul of the Cross Retreat Center. District 3 city Councilman Jeff Koch will be the guest speaker.

 

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