Pittsburgh Planning Commission approves several housing plans

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The heart of the cultural district may soon become the hub for Downtown living.

City planning commission members heard or approved plans Tuesday for another 137 apartment units and four condominiums on a stretch of Penn Avenue running from Sixth Street to the Strip District.

At the same time, the commission authorized construction of 186 townhouses as the first phase of a plan to replace the Addison Terrace public housing complex in the Hill District despite misgivings about some aspects of the development.

On Penn Avenue, Philadelphia developer PMC Property Group, which has made a big splash Downtown since entering the market in 2010, is responsible for the lion's share of the 137 apartment units under development.

The commission approved the developer's plans to convert the Jackman Building at 526 Penn Ave. into 72 one- and two-bedroom apartments. The upper floors of the 10-story former office building are now vacant.

Sean Beasley of the Strada architectural firm told the commission that a Subway restaurant and an office would remain on the first floor, while the rest of the structure would house apartments, eight to a floor.

Mr. Beasley did not have a timetable for construction or the proposed rental rates for the units. PMC recently bought the building from Alco Parking president Merrill Stabile for $1.5 million.

The developer also plans to convert a former department store at the other end of Penn into 29 apartments, Mr. Beasley said during a briefing. PMC hopes to get started on the project at 908 Penn, next to the Nine on Nine restaurant, this winter and have the first units ready before the end of 2013.

The studios and one- and two-bedroom units would range in size from 600 to 1,000 square feet. PMC also is planning to restore the facade of the building, built in 1896, and use the first floor for either retail or housing.

Meanwhile, developer Todd Palcic presented a proposal to the commission to add two stories to side-by-side seven-story buildings at 907-909 Penn and construct 36 apartments.

Brian Kaminski of Indovina Associates Architects said all of the units would be one bedroom except for, possibly, a single two-bedroom. Mr. Palcic is negotiating with an adjacent property owner to obtain air rights so that he can add terraces. He also has plans for a first-floor restaurant.

At 1135 Penn bordering the Strip District, developer and architect Art Lubetz and partner Marty Marra are proposing to convert an old building into an office and four condos selling for $435,000 and up. Mr. Lubetz said he has already sold the office space and two of the condos. He hopes to get started on the units within the next two weeks and have them completed in six months after receiving commission approval Tuesday.

Commission members approved the first phase of the Addison Terrace redevelopment in the Hill in a 4-1 vote with one abstention despite raising a host of concerns about parts of the plan.

Developer KBK Enterprises and the city housing authority are proposing to replace the 734-unit public housing development with 400 townhouses, some of which eventually would be rented at market rates. The first phase would feature 186 units.

But some members raised concerns about the lack of for-sale units as part of the development, the absence of garages in the townhouses, and the way in which the units were clustered together.

"In my heart of hearts, I don't think this is a great project at all," said commission member John Valentine, who abstained.

In the end, the commission approved the first phase, fearing that rejecting it could jeopardize the financing and prevent displaced residents from returning home.

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


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