Developer proposes housing, hotel in Oakland

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Three buildings will be demolished in the 3300 block of Forbes Avenue in Oakland this summer for a hotel, apartment, office and retail complex whose plans should be ready to present to the Planning Commission by year's end.

Two of the partners, Gary Wilson, principal at Langholz Wilson Ellis Real Estate, and Felix Cardella, president of TKA Architects, presented preliminary plans at a community meeting Thursday evening.

The former Allegheny County Health Department at 3333 Forbes and two vacant homes just east of it will be demolished and replaced by a 330-unit apartment building, a 125-150 room hotel, a 50,000 square-foot office building and 5,000 square feet of retail space. An interior parking lot will accommodate 400 cars.

The total land area is 1.84 acres and total project cost is expected to exceed $30 million, Mr. Wilson said.

Last year, the development team expected to build a taller hotel with more rooms and underground parking and did not include an apartment component. It also lost its hotel management partner, Kratsa Properties, which backed out. A replacement partner has not been confirmed.

"There was less interest from hotel developers when this project started" during the economic downturn, Mr. Cardell said, "so we moved to the apartments because that was a very interested market."

The hotel will be in the style of the Aloft chain's boutique hotels, which Mr. Wilson called "fun, cool and trendy. It will have small-plate food and a bar."

All plans are subject to alterations if the city's zoning and planning bodies require them. Mr. Wilson said the partners will need a special zoning exception for the apartment building, which is proposed at 120 feet, or 11 stories. The maximum for that zoning district is 85 feet. The rest of the project comes in at 75, Mr. Cardella said.

He said the partners "have had very preliminary discussions with the city and we will not be permitted a curb cut on Fifth Avenue."

That side of the development, across from the main part of Carlow University, will be a pedestrian entrance for apartment residents. The Forbes side will accommodate cars and service vehicles. The office building will sit above a three-and-a-half level parking deck, which will not be visible from the sidewalk.

The Forbes Avenue retail portion will feature a two-story glass atrium.

The parking capacity exceeds what the city would require, Mr. Wilson said. The partners took advantage of the city's allowance of a 30 percent reduction of minimum parking slots in exchange for bicycle parking.

"We're very cognizant that mass transit will serve the site well and bus rapid transit will enhance it even further when it comes," Mr. Cardella said.

A traffic study has yet to be done.

The apartments will be "top of the market," with corner terraces and a rooftop pool, Mr. Wilson said, adding, "but we haven't priced the units yet. We're still playing with the drawings."

He said a market study of possible tenants surprised him.

"We thought we'd be building student housing," he said. "But the demand is coming from 22- to 28-year-old professionals for studio and one-bedroom apartments. There will be a few with two bedrooms." He said the study indicated that a majority of residents would work within walking distance, "at Pitt and the hospitals."

The complex will include landscaped setbacks, street trees and a green roof on the Forbes side.

Allegheny County Council approved the sale of the health department building in 2009 but the actual sale took place last year, held up by the slow economy, Mr. Wilson said. After presenting the plan to about 20 Oakland residents, he said, "It will be good to get this started."

Residents' voiced few concerns about the plan but asked for assurances that parking at the complex would be sufficient to prevent potential encroachment into side streets.


Diana Nelson Jones: djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626. Read her blog City Walkabout at www.post-gazette.com/citywalk.

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