Property Watch: Planning Commission delays vote on 3500 Forbes project


After a lengthy hearing before the city Planning Commission on Feb. 23, a vote on whether to approve a proposed multi-story student apartment building on Forbes Avenue was tabled until developer CA Ventures could work with some of the critics of the project.

The 10-story, 102-feet-high building is planned for the former Marathon gas station lot at 3500 Forbes Avenue.

Several concerns have been raised by Family House, at 233 McKee Place, which would be adjacent to the rear of the building. Of particular concern is a planned pedestrian walkway at the back of the property, which some in the community have said could become a gathering spot and cause problems. CA Ventures said it is willing to restrict access to the area during the nighttime hours.

The company has already agreed to move a generator that would have sat next to the Family House property to inside the new building.

The major concern raised at the Planning Commission meeting was the “fortress-like” feel that the back of the building would have on the Family House property, according to Jennifer March, executive director of the organization that provides a “home away from home” for patients or their families who are in Pittsburgh seeking medical treatment. 

The buildings on the Family House property currently don’t have patients or families in them. Family House has gotten approval to demolish them and build a new facility. The design of the 3500 Forbes building would force the nonprofit to undertake an architectural redesign “which will be cost prohibitive,” March said.

Kevin McKeegan, CA Ventures’ local attorney, said the building has been through several public reviews through the Oakland Planning and Development Corp. and other groups. “There is nothing about this project which is outside the four corners of the zoning code,” he said. “There are no requests here for special exceptions or variances.”

While the zoning code for building height in that area is 85 feet, CA Ventures is able to get to 102 feet with bonuses available for LEED and green construction.

Jonathan Kamin, Family House attorney, argued that the development didn’t meet all of the requirements of the zoning code, particularly in regard to massing. Eric Booth, of Desmone Architects in Lawrenceville, said there was no transition from the large building on Forbes Avenue to the smaller residential buildings behind it.

Several other issues were raised, leading to CA Ventures suggesting the hearing be delayed so they could work with Family House on their concerns. A new hearing date was set for March 23. The entire Feb. 23 hearing can be viewed on the Planning Commission YouTube page.

“Please go work hard, come back to us with something that’s amenable,” Commission Chairwoman Christine Mondor said.

Other Oakland projects

Pittsburgh Athletic Association building: The exterior is largely finished, Paul Supowitz, vice chancellor for Community and Governmental Relations, said at the Senate Plant Utilization and Planning committee meeting on Feb. 15. The interior space is raw now and will be renovated to fit tenants’ needs. The project is being done by Walnut Capital. “I think there’s the possibility that the University may take some space in that building,” Supowitz said. “But largely it’s office space and restaurant kind of uses on the first floor.”

BRT system: The Post-Gazette reported on Feb. 19 that the design of the Bus Rapid Transit project, which will link Oakland and downtown Pittsburgh with bus-only lanes, is about 90 percent complete. The Federal Transit Administration has appointed New York firm McKissack and McKissack as the project management oversight consultant, the Port Authority’s planning and stakeholder committee was told at a Feb. 18 meeting. The firm will review the project to make sure it meets federal standards before the agency releases a $99.5 million grant to support the $230 million project. The BRT will use Fifth Avenue for inbound buses and Forbes Avenue outbound.

UPMC Presbyterian wing: Pitt and UPMC finalized the sale of a wing of the UPMC Presbyterian hospital complex on DeSoto Street for $17.5 million, according to the Pittsburgh Business Times. A Pitt spokesman told the Business Times that Pitt had owned that portion of the hospital since 1990 and has been leasing it to UPMC for all this time.

Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at or 724-244-4042.


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