Planners approve zoning for massive Hazelwood project at LTV site

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An ambitious plan to redevelop the former LTV coke works site in Hazelwood has passed its first big test.

City planning commission members voted 6-0 Tuesday to approve a zoning change and a preliminary land development plan for the massive $900 million development on the banks of the Monongahela River.

The decision helps to set the stage for the Regional Industrial Development Corporation to award about $7 million in contracts for site grading, the first step toward redeveloping the 178-acre parcel. Don Smith, RIDC president, said he hopes to let the first contracts within a week, pending final regulatory approvals. Some development could begin as early as next year.

"This is a big step in helping make a statement that this plan is going to happen, that the site is going to be developed in this manner, and it's one more positive signal to developers and investors that they can actually start looking at the site in earnest," he said.

While commission members recommended the change in the zoning from a general industrial district to a specially planned district, it still must be approved by city council.

The proposed mixed-use development on the last of the city's brownfields would feature more than 2 million square feet of office and research and development space, and as many as 1,300 units of housing in the form of townhouses, condominiums or apartments.

It also would include a "signature" boulevard that would run the length of the site and link the four major quadrants -- Riverview, Smart Site Central Green, Eco-Tech Park and Hazelwood Flats -- dedicated to residential, light industry, office, high-tech and green-friendly development.

Owner Almono LP also is proposing more than 26 acres of open space, including parks, trails and lanes dedicated to bicyclists. It also has plans to connect the development to the Hazelwood business district, hoping to provide a lift to the struggling neighborhood, which fell on hard times when the coke works closed in 1997.

City Councilman Corey O'Connor, who represents Hazelwood, said the development will generate jobs and has the potential to transform the neighborhood. He said the plans already are stirring interest in redevelopment along Second Avenue, including the potential reopening of a neighborhood grocery.

"This corridor is going to be huge, not only for us but for the entire region. We're getting calls across the country from companies that want to invest in Hazelwood. I think rightfully so because this is a great site," he said.

Mr. O'Connor said $80 million in proposed tax increment financing to help pay for infrastructure costs related to the site, including the signature boulevard, is "well worth" the investment given the potential pay off.

The proposed 20-year TIF, the largest in Pittsburgh's history, still must be approved by the city, the county and the city school district. It would divert 65 percent of the tax revenue generated by the development to help pay for the infrastructure, including some off-site improvements.

Total infrastructure costs could exceed $133 million, Mr. Smith said. Almono is hoping to generate the rest through land sales, state redevelopment capital dollars and investments by developers. It also may pitch in some of its own money.

RIDC officials hope to issue a final request for proposals in July for companies interested in developing housing at the site. A preliminary request produced interest from 10 developers, both national and local. Mr. Smith also has said that the property is attracting interest from technology, engineering, manufacturing and development companies.

While commission members had high praise for the overall development, they did voice some concern about the potential proliferation of surface parking. Commissioner Todd Reidbord said he didn't want the site to look "like a suburban office park."

Mr. Smith said there would be limited surface parking available during the first stages of development but that it would switch to structured garage parking as density increases and projects take hold.

Because structured parking is such a huge capital expense, requiring developers to build it initially could discourage development, he added.

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Mark belko: mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262. First Published May 28, 2013 4:30 PM


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