E.V. Bishoff Co., Benedum Trees Condominium Association challenge Market Square high-rise

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A prominent Downtown property owner is taking its battle over a proposed $81.8 million Forbes Avenue office and hotel project to court.

The E.V. Bishoff Co. is contesting the city planning commission's approval of the 18-story Gardens at Market Square high-rise and a variance granted for the building last year. Bishoff claims the project will have a detrimental impact on one of its properties, the Investment Building at 239 Fourth Ave.

Hoping to join the Columbus-based Bishoff company in the appeals to Allegheny County Common Pleas Court is the Benedum Trees Condominium Association, which represents residents in the Benedum Trees Building at 223 Fourth Ave., also abutting the new development. The association has petitioned the court to intervene in the cases.

The appeals come as Washington County developer Millcraft Industries is preparing to start construction of the high-rise, which will feature 120,000 square feet of office space, 23,000 square feet of retail, a 176-room Hilton Garden Inn hotel and a 300-space parking garage.

A handful of buildings, including the former George Aiken restaurant and the old National Record Mart, have been demolished to clear the way for the complex. Millcraft hopes to start work in the next couple of months and have the project finished in the third quarter of 2014.

The new building will straddle Forbes and Fourth avenues and will come within a handful of feet of the Investment and Benedum Trees buildings, prompting complaints from Bishoff and the condo association.

One of the Bishoff appeals is challenging a variance it states was granted by the Pittsburgh Bureau of Building Inspection in October giving Millcraft permission to create wider openings than those allowed under the city's building code on the facades facing Forbes and Fourth avenues for the proposed above-ground garage.

The variance, it said, would "substantially and permanently impair" the use of the Investment Building by "permitting noxious fumes, odors, and/or suspended particulate to migrate to, and in," the real estate.

It said the 21-story building, with operable windows and HVAC systems on all sides, will be only five feet from the property line of the new high-rise and its parking garage. The code, it stated, doesn't permit, as a matter of right, a variance in the percentage of open facade that close to the property line.

The appeal also contended that the wider openings would create a fire hazard. It said the code limits openings to prevent flames from jumping from one building to another. While a fire protection deluge system proposed by Millcraft might save the high-rise, the Investment Building could still be in jeopardy, the appeal claims.

Bishoff's other appeal seeks to reverse the planning commission's approval of the project Aug. 7. It maintained the commission ignored a handful of zoning administrator exceptions needed for the development, including those related to parking, loading docks, and screenings, and zoning variances for bicycle spaces and accessible spaces.

The appeal also charges that the commission acted to approve the Gardens' project development plan without giving adequate notice. It stated that the agenda for the Aug. 7 meeting did not list the development as being up for consideration at that time.

In its petitions to intervene, the condo association said the Gardens project would affect pedestrian safety, air quality, trash management, public open space design and the setback between buildings. It also claimed that "irregular and/or improper procedures have been used by the city and its planning commission to accelerate the approvals for the project."

In a statement, Lucas Piatt, Millcraft president and chief operating officer, said the developer believes the appeals have "no substantial merit" and has hired outside counsel to intervene. At the same time, it is continuing to have discussions with Bishoff and the condo association "as to how the parties might amicably resolve these matters."

A city attorney could not be reached for comment. Common Pleas Judge Joseph James has scheduled a status conference on the appeals for Feb. 6.

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


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