Pittsburgh planning commission OKs Downtown Holiday Inn amid gripes

When Mary Hagerty bought a First Avenue condominium last fall that afforded her great views of the Monongahela River, she didn’t pay a lot of attention to the fine print in the contract that warned about the small boutique hotel that could be built across the street.

Now she wishes she had.

Ms. Hagerty’s “incredible” views of the river, the Smithfield Street Bridge and Mount Washington will vanish with the construction of the eight-story, 99-room Holiday Inn on Fort Pitt Boulevard approved Tuesday in a 6-0 vote by the city planning commission.

“I guess when I moved in I wasn’t expecting to look into hotel rooms and have a big green neon sign instead of the beautiful view that I bought,” she told commission members.

Approval came despite objections from Ms. Hagerty and another half-dozen First Avenue residents or property owners who feared that the development would block their views or otherwise adversely impact the neighborhood where they work or live.

The Forza Group, a Bridgeville developer, is proposing the $9 million Holiday Inn, the first one Downtown. It would be built at 433 Fort Pitt Boulevard next to the Fort Pitt Commons building on a lot that now houses a two-story building that is to be demolished. The hotel is expected to be completed by next June.

It is a scaled-down version of a 12-story hotel first proposed in 2009. Two years later, the planning commission approved a streamlined 107-room, seven-story hotel that never got off the ground.

The Holiday Inn will sit in front of the eight-story 429 First Ave. building, where Ms. Hagerty and many others have condos. It in essence will block their views as well as those of many of the office tenants in the Hartley-Rose Building next door.

David O’Loughlin, owner of the Hartley-Rose Building, argued unsuccessfully for the commission to delay a vote on approving the plan while residents and property owners reviewed the hotel proposal in more detail. “We’re going to be looking right into the back of a hotel. That is a concern,” he said.

Some residents complained about not being notified about the latest plans for the hotel. That drew a strong reaction from William Sittig, the Forza Group’s attorney, who said he offered to meet with residents and property owners in the area two months ago and got no response.

“We have been out there. We’ve been very public,” he said in arguing against a delay.

In the end, the commission approved the plans for the hotel with the condition that Mr. Sittig meet with those affected to try to iron out issues like hotel signage, traffic and the location of electric lines and other utilities. But members stressed they had no authority to change the number of stories or the type of hotel being built.

It was an unhappy ending for Ms. Hagerty, who spent $340,000 for a 2,000-square-foot unit on the seventh floor of 429 First Ave. When she read the disclaimer about the small boutique hotel, she said she never expected it to go eight stories and be a Holiday Inn.

“You know it’s some remote possibility. But they said a little boutique hotel. Anyway, that’s life,” she said.

Mark Belko: mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262.

Mark Belko: mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262.

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