The "good neighbor" process has become an unwritten principle of Pittsburgh's Zoning Board of Adjustment.
It asks that, before the board holds a hearing, a developer introduce his project to the people who live near it. Each side is expected to inch toward the other, with compromises if there is opposition.
In the proposed development of a parcel on Josephine Street in the South Side Slopes, the case endured three continuances while the two sides met eight times. There have been three alterations to the plan. It went from 21 apartments to 18 to 15 to, finally, six townhouses that are likely to need one or two variances for dimensions.
The final hearing has been scheduled for April 10.
At last week's hearing, five residents and city Councilman Bruce Kraus joined the developers and their architect and attested to discussions that brought almost everyone to being almost OK with the project.
"You've done a huge good-neighbor process," board chairwoman Wrenna Watson told the development team.
William Jones, who owns a property adjacent to the developer's parcel of about 18,000 square feet, contested the size of an end unit but said he does not oppose the plan. "We've come a long way from the initial hearing," he said.
In December, Oxbridge Development, which had built six rental townhouses on the site several years ago, proposed as its second phase seven three-story apartment buildings. Its representatives asked the zoning board for two variances, one to build multifamily units and one pertaining to setbacks and lot size. At least a dozen neighbors huddled around the hearing table to oppose it.
The developers and a clutch of residents returned in February and again last week.
Oxbridge "was gracious enough to ask for continuances to continue the dialogue," Brad Palmisiano, a board member of the South Side Slopes Neighborhood Association, said. "The South Side neighborhood plan is what guides us on these issues."
The neighbors' concerns were about density, parking and traffic on 18th Street. Josephine and 18th both slope and come together to form a triangular wedge of land. Oxbridge agreed to a design that would connect townhouse traffic to Josephine rather than 18th.
The developer requested last week's continuance to subdivide the land rather than request a variance for multifamily units. Subdividing will make each parcel a single-family parcel and avoid setting a multifamily precedent that future developers could use.
The new townhouses will be available for rent or sale, depending on the market.
"We expressed our concern about the sheer density," Mr. Palmisiano said. "We had a respectful and fair-minded conversation. There's a market for apartments, but apartments in a single-family district need to be handled very carefully. For so long, there were unmitigated conversions of single-family houses into apartments without any thought about the crowding."
He said the good neighbor process and the developer were, together, "a shining example" of community-mindedness.
Representatives of Oxbridge Development said they want their work to align with the neighborhood's vision but declined to elaborate further on the matter.
"It's not the large effort it was going to be, so we have to make the numbers work," said the developer's architect, Peter Kreuthmeier, who also sits on the Slopes association board. ""It is extremely unusual for a developer to have that level of engagement, but in our view it's entirely appropriate because this has to fold into the community."
Diana Nelson Jones: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1626. Read her blog City Walkabout at www.post-gazette.com/citywalk.