By SUSAN JONES
The controversial Oakland Crossings project, which would redevelop 17 acres in South Oakland, has hit another stumbling block, with newly installed Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey asking for a 30-day continuance on a proposed zoning ordinance change sought by project developer Walnut Capital.
The change would create a new zoning subdistrict that would include all the areas in Walnut Capital’s planned development, on McKee Place, Louise Street, Halket Street and the Boulevard of the Allies. The proposal for the new subdistrict came from former Mayor Bill Peduto’s office straight to City Council, instead of the normal route through community discussions and the planning department.
At a December Planning Commission meeting, commissioners specifically questioned why the developer was pushing ahead with the plan before community organizers have a chance to present the 10-year Oakland master plan, which has been in the works for two years and is set to be released in the next few months.
“We have not yet been briefed on the Oakland Plan, so we’re kind of relying on your (Walnut Capital’s) interpretation of that plan,” Planning Commission Chairwoman Christine Mondor said at the meeting.
“I’m befuddled just that a mayor would sidestep his own Planning Department,” said Commissioner Sabina Deitrick, who also is an associate professor in Pitt’s Graduate School of International and Public Affairs. “Coming in with a zoning change from a developer who’s been working with a team internally, it sounds like it’s old-timey planning, long before we had a citizen ladder of citizens’ participation.”
A news release from Gainey’s office this week said because the zoning text amendment was introduced by Peduto, the Office of the Mayor became the applicant and the party responsible for requesting a continuance.
The continuance, the new release said, will help “provide clarity on the technical language and ensure equitable development is prioritized by the City of Pittsburgh zoning code.” The Gainey administration plans to engage with community and student groups, housing justice advocates, and the developer to devise a path forward.
One of the issues raised by the Planning Commission and Oakland residents is that Walnut Capital’s plans doesn’t make any allowances for affordable housing, which is one of the priorities of the Oakland Plan.
“I am hopeful we will find a solution that prioritizes equitable development, aligns with the priorities raised by residents in the Oakland Plan process, and delivers on much needed affordable housing prospects for the people of Pittsburgh,” Gainey said in the news release.
The zoning issue will now come before the Planning Commission on Feb. 8. Commission meetings are streamed live on the Pittsburgh City Planning YouTube page.
Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-244-4042.
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