Housing is proposed for Poli restaurant site

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The site of the former Poli restaurant in Squirrel Hill will become 40 units of housing under a plan that ACTION-Housing is preparing for community input by early next year.

A once-venerable restaurant lauded for its seafood, Poli closed at 5686 Forward Ave. in 2005 by order of Allegheny County Common Pleas Court after a legal dispute.

ACTION-Housing's holding company, AHI Development Inc., bought the property for $435,000 in September and is entering a joint venture with Jewish Residential Services.

Linda Metropulos, ACTION-Housing's director of housing and neighborhood development, said the building will be demolished and a new low-rise will replace it.

"Our projection is to build maybe five or six stories depending on what zoning will allow and based on parking requirements," she said.

The new project will make use of the small parking ridge across the street.

The first floor, roughly 10,000 square feet, will be non-residential space, offices and the new home of Howard Levin Clubhouse, Jewish Residential Services's non-residential center beside the former restaurant.

According to its website, Jewish Residential Services "provides residential and rehabilitative services to people who need support in their everyday lives because of psychiatric or developmental disabilities."

Its representatives could not be reached for comment on the project.

Of the housing units, Ms. Metropulos said, "We don't yet know what the mix will be, but at least half will be supportive housing for vulnerable populations. Our commitment is to work with the Squirrel Hill community and move forward with the actual design."

The design plan is being conducted by Forty Eighty Architects.

"We will get started in January with laying out a community process, working with the Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition," Ms. Metropulos said.

The coalition's board president, Ray Baum, said the group is supportive of the project.

"There is a critical need" for supportive and low-income housing, he said.

"Everyone has been tired of this eyesore," Ms. Metropulos said. "And all of us who are doing supportive services recognize the need for housing for all these vulnerable populations," including the poor, the elderly and disabled.

Ms. Metropulos said ACTION-Housing has talked with the owners of other parcels along Forward up to the former Squirrel Hill Theater but has not come to terms on those properties.

"It would be wonderful to be able to design for the development of that whole area," she said. An expanded vision would be for more of a mix, "maybe offices, commercial kinds of things and some additional residential."

ACTION-Housing has until next November to apply to the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency for low-income tax credits, "which will be a primary funding stream for us," she said.

There is no estimate yet of how much the project will cost, she added.

"When we tell people about our project, most people say, 'Where are those lobster door pulls?' " she said of the old Poli restaurant. "We don't have them."

Diana Nelson Jones: djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626.

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