South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Tom Smith
South Pittsburgh Reporter Editor 

Residents continue to oppose proposed Slopes development

 


Developer Justin Cipriani returned to the South Side Slopes to present changes for the proposed Villas at Winter Park, a project of 25 new single-family homes to be situated mostly on Hackstown Street, between St. Paul of the Cross Monastery property and the former Veronica’s Veil building.

Many of the changes were gleaned from suggestions from input provided by neighborhood residents at a community meeting in late August. Mr. Cipriani’s Cipriani Studios will act as the architects and developers on the property Synergy Capital is purchasing.

Mr. Cipriani told the group of residents gathered at the St. Pau of the Cross Monastery Retreat Center he took back a “laundry list” of suggestions from prior meetings and went “back to the drawing board.”

Currently, Hackstown is a dead-end street with a vacant lot at the end residents use as a turn-around. The latest proposal for the project include extending Hackstown to build 22 single-family homes with a ten-space visitor’s parking area at the beginning and additional two-space common parking areas spaced every four houses.

About two-thirds of the way down the new section of Hackstown, a new access road will lead down and join with the end of Gregory Street. An additional three single-family homes will be built near the Gregory Street connection.

Mr. Cipriani said they took some of residents’ concerns, such as limitations of the storm water system, and made changes to the project. In the current design, one-third of the water will be directed to the Hackstown system, one-third to the Gregory Street system and one-third to Magdelene Street system.

Previously, they proposed connecting the development to Magdelene Street. The latest design has a connection to Gregory Street.

“In terms of traffic,” Mr. Cipriani said. “Gregory is a wider street and from an infrastructure perspective it’s a little bit bigger and a bit more appropriate to connect.”

He said the massing of the units, using a duplex model, moving some to the Gregory connection and adding additional parking with greenspace, took the density out of the project and was more with what they were hearing from residents.

He continued that the new houses added to the Gregory connection will have “some nice views” and will tether it to the rest of the development.

“There are these edges you’re developing, it’s not just this thing up on the hill but it’s done in these smaller stages and might feather into the context better.” Mr. Cipriani said.

To discuss some of the traffic concerns expressed by residents in prior meetings, the development team had a Plan B meeting with city planners and traffic engineers. He explained the city officials weren’t concerned with speeding through the neighborhood because of the development.

Mr. Cipriani related because the roads are narrow and go up and down, the city officials didn’t feel preemptive traffic slowing measures were needed. Traffic slowing tools, such as speed humps, add to the maintenance and construction costs and are generally reserved for streets that are 28 feet wide or more.

If the community feels there is excessive speeding on the roads, they will be able to petition the city for the traffic slowing measures.

From a general connection viewpoint, Mr. Cipriani said the city officials viewed the connection with Gregory as a positive step. The connection will allow easier access for city services such as trash collection and snow removal.

Questioned about the number of units, Mr. Cipriani said from a business standpoint they were trying to keep it at 25 houses; to use the houses to invest in the infrastructure.

Hackstown and the connection to Gregory are going to remain two-ways, with traffic being able to flow in both directions. Mr. Cipriani said in discussions with his team members and with city officials, the general consensus was for traffic to be maintained going both ways.

A Gregory Street resident commented once people learn they can go from Brosville Street to 18th Street without going down to East Carson Street, his street will become a shortcut. “And they already go down there at 30-35 miles per hour.”

Mr. Cipriani suggested that’s where the speed mitigation remedies could be used.

“You want speed bumps, I don’t want speed bumps,” he was told. “The mitigation is for you, not for me. I don’t want speed bumps on my road. I don’t want fast cars on my road.”

Chuck Diulus, chief operating officer for R.W. Martik & Sons, general contractors on the project, said the traffic calming is “for the masses,” explaining putting in speed bumps adds costs for the developer and for the city for maintenance.

“All you’re doing with speed bumps or any kind of traffic calming is trying to appeal the mass concern,” he continued. “From a developer’s perspective, from a builder’s perspective, we prefer there not to be speed bumps.”

Mr. Diulus said speed bumps could be a deterrent to some people to buy a home on a street. He added the speeding condition that happens on Gregory Street now is an existing condition and has nothing to do with the proposed project or the connection to Hackstown.

“The number of cars that will make access from Brosville to 18th will be huge when people understand it’s a cut through,” the Gregory Street resident said.

“It’s going to greatly increase the number of cars, we said that last time,” a Magdelene Street resident said. “Your traffic engineer… didn’t seem to think it made a difference. You people don’t really have a concept or a grasp on how this is going to affect the existing masses, as you call us. You have no idea.”

Josh Adamek, from Synergy Capital, prospective buyers of the property for the project, said the traffic engineers for the project and the city agreed the pros outweigh the cons for the development.

He said the connection will allow better access for city services such as trash and snow removal and for public safety.

A small outburst from those in attendance countered his statement with residents complaining there were no pros for the neighborhood, only for the developers.

“You come and speak to us. You go from 27 to 25. You tell us it’s going to be a better crowd of people, so instead of having 50 Chevys going up and down the street, it’s going to be 50 BMWs or Mercedes. You don’t understand the limitations of those streets,” the Magdelene Street resident stated. “You keep talking in these ideal worlds were 28 feet is wider and it’s going to be better. You don’t know what we see every day and you continue to go on without hearing us because it’s going to benefit you. It’s not going to benefit us.

“I don’t care if our property values go up, most of us don’t. We already get city services, we already get snow removal, as it is. We already get, as difficult as it is, a fire truck or an ambulance up there. Luckily we don’t need those nearly as often as the cars that you are going to put into our neighborhood are going to affect us.”

Mr. Cipriani asked the audience to tell him what kind of traffic devices or what they could do to make traffic flow better and be more acceptable. He said they’ve taken their suggestions from prior meetings and made changes to the plan already and will continue to work with the neighborhood.

The meeting got contentious between members of the development team and residents with each trying to make their points, often at the same time.

Mr. Adamek said they take the input from the meetings and make adjustments to the plan. He said the first plan was to extend Hackstown into a cul-de-sac and build 27 units, it was only after community discussions they altered the plan to connect first to Magdelene and changed again to connect to Gregory.

A property owner at the end of Magdelene complained to the developers that she purchased her house because of the view and by connecting to Gregory Street and adding three more units they will block her view and take away from her property value.

Mr. Adamek said the connection to Gregory is a 12 percent grade and he would “venture a guess” the three new units won’t affect her view. “Your view isn’t blocked by rest of the houses on Gregory is it?”

“Not my view, but I’m on the end,” she replied.

Mr. Cipriani said they would look at the site plan and elevations and see how it would affect her view of the city.

The zoning hearing for the Villas at Winter Park development is scheduled for 9 a.m. on Thursday, Oct. 16. Councilman Bruce Kraus, in attendance at the meeting, asked Mr. Cipriani to consider postponing the hearing.

“I just don’t think you’re ready to go to zoning. You have a roomful of opposition here and that is going to be an incredibly contentious zoning hearing. I would ask you to postpone that. You still have a lot of work to do in this room,” Mr. Kraus said.

“You’ve been using the term consensus, unless I missed something, the consensus seems to be the neighborhood doesn’t seem to support this even though you’re trying to accommodate some of the specific concerns,” a Slopes resident stated.

After concerns that this would be the last opportunity to comment before the zoning hearing and the hearing would be the last opportunity to object to the development, city planner Ashley Holloway said there is still another public process, a City Planning hearing.

If the project is approved by the Zoning Board, it would still have to go before the City Planning Commission for a public hearing. At the Planning Commission, all attending are given an opportunity to speak if they desire to.

Mr. Holloway said the city is unbiased in the public hearing and decision process. He noted the developer has a legal right to build something on their property. “That’s just the code.”

“What our job is to make sure what they’re building is cohesive to the city code,” he said. “We can’t decide whether it’s good or not, we have to go according to the code because legally they have a right to build.”

A resident noted that they’re going to the Zoning Board because they need an exception to the code to be permitted to build.

Mr. Cipriani said although they’re going before the Zoning Board, they have almost twice the required property for each lot and they wanted a “cleaner master plan” to hand over to the city in the end.

Mr. Kraus explained they are going to the board for three things: A special exception is needed for a single-family dwelling in a Hillside Zoning District; A variance for minimum lot size; and, a special exception for off-site parking.

He noted the Zoning Board will only consider the requests for the variance and the special exceptions. The board will not consider design, materials or impact on the neighborhood.

After the hearing, the board will take 45-60 days to render a decision. After the decision is released, those for and against will have an opportunity to appeal the decision, he added.

Mr. Cipriani said they would work with the current owner of the property to get an extension on purchasing the property to postpone the zoning hearing.

Following the public meeting, Slopes residents held a private session to discuss hiring an attorney to oppose the development.

 

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