Judge rejects City of Asylum literary center on North Side

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A proposed literary center in Central North Side has been rejected by an Allegheny County judge who found that zoning exceptions granted to the City of Asylum Pittsburgh project were inappropriate.

Common Pleas Judge Joseph M. James found that Alphabet City, the name of the proposed project at 1406 Monterey St., was too large, included a bar that did not meet residential zoning requirements and did not undergo the proper scrutiny for its parking needs.

Henry Reese, the president and co-founder of City of Asylum, said he is reviewing the opinion to see how to proceed. The organization has 30 days to appeal to the state Commonwealth Court.

"We're obviously disappointed," Mr. Reese said. "It's a wonderful building. I felt good about everything about it."

Alphabet City would include an apartment for threatened writers and be used to host events for the literary community. The project also included a cafe/bar.

The plan, which would occupy three lots that already have been cleared, was approved by the zoning board of adjustment last December.

It was quickly challenged by neighborhood residents concerned about traffic and activity at the site.

"My clients didn't oppose the City of Asylum use, they opposed what was being proposed," said David Toal, who represented the residents who challenged the project.

An earlier version proposed by the organization called for using two buildings that were previously on the lots. However, when City of Asylum changed the plan to build from scratch, the residents had concerns.

"They don't oppose City of Asylum, the mission or the good things City of Asylum does," Mr. Toal said. But, he continued, "Being bigger doesn't mean you can't do it. It just means you can't do it there."

In his four-page opinion, Judge James said that to be granted a cultural services-limited use facility in the zoning code, which was sought for Alphabet City, the structure must be less than 5,000 square feet.

The proposed structure is 5,361 square feet, and the owners were unable to meet the criteria for a special exception, the judge said.

Further, he found that City of Asylum failed to submit an alternate access and parking plan as required by the zoning process.

"Neighbors presented compelling testimony regarding the parking demand and the lack of on-street parking," Judge James wrote.

books - neigh_city

Paula Reed Ward: at pward@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2620.


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