Pittsburgh Planning Commission OKs expansion of Whole Foods

Whole Foods Market got only half of what it wanted from the city planning commission on Tuesday.

Commission members signed off on plans to expand the cramped East Liberty grocery by 14,434 square feet but balked at approving an accompanying parking deck because of concerns about the design.

"I love everything about your proposal except the disparity between your existing elegant deck and your really kind of mall-garage-like precast deck," commission member Page Thomas said.

The commission postponed a decision on the 52-space structure until next month to give the Mosites Co., the developer, time to evaluate potential options to improve the design. The deck would increase the number of spaces devoted to parking at the store from 104 to 156.

Several commission members urged Steve Mosites, the company president, to erect the same kind of post-tensioned deck the developer used on the Eastside II project.

Lenore Williams, chairwoman of the Baum Centre Initiative, said the community group was "very disappointed" with the proposed design.

"Had the proposed structure at least mirrored the Eastside II space on the top floor, it would have been a bit easier to swallow," she said.

While Mosites also prefers the post-tensioned deck, the company decided to go with a precast construction to save time, Mr. Mosites said. The precast deck, he noted, can be done within the 3 1/2-month window Whole Foods has given, starting in June. The post-tensioned deck would take at least five months.

"If we're going to go beyond [3 1/2 months], there's going to be financial impacts to everybody. As it is, the customer is going to be inconvenienced," he said.

Among the options Mosites will explore is whether it can shrink the construction period for the post-tensioned deck, perhaps by doing night work, or make changes in the precast design to make it more aesthetically pleasing.

Construction of the deck is expected to start in June. If there are slower months for the store they are June, July and August, although Mr. Mosites added that there's "not a lot of down time at any time of the year" for the grocery.

"We've got an operating store that does huge volume. There are tens of thousands of transactions there a week that we're going to be impacting," he said.

Work related to the grocery expansion is expected to start in April. It would provide more space for shoppers and add a second-floor cafe in a store that is smaller than most in the Whole Foods chain. The entire project is expected to cost $4 million to $5 million. A post-tensioned deck would add about 30 percent to the cost.

Whole Foods wants to have all work completed before the start of the busy holiday season. Mosites has made arrangements for shoppers to use a AAA parking lot across Centre Avenue from Whole Foods during the deck construction.

"We will do the best we can with the intent that we have a long-term improvement here with some short-term pain," Mr. Mosites said.

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

First Published February 4, 2014 3:30 PM

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