Public to get a chance to comment on transit development proposal

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Mt. Lebanon residents will have the opportunity to comment on a possible major development for the municipality’s business district.

A public comment meeting on March 10 will address transit-oriented development under consideration for a site near the Port Authority light-rail transit station off Washington Road.

“We want active participation,” Eric Milliron, Mt. Lebanon commercial districts manager, said about the meeting, which will be at the municipal building’s commission chambers.

The proposed transit-oriented development is focusing on the proximity of a public transportation hub. The concept has been explored in Mt. Lebanon as far back as 1983, when the now-defunct municipal parking authority acquired the air rights, the ability to develop above the light-rail tracks, from the Port Authority.

The idea has been re-investigated in recent years, with a series of studies considering such issues as feasibility, cost and development opportunities. The latest study is a market analysis conducted last year by Delta Development Group of Wexford, with the goal of preparing a request for proposal aimed at potential developers.

The Mt. Lebanon Economic Development Council has been reviewing the studies in its capacity as an advisory group to municipal commissioners. Among its recommendations is that the municipality place emphasis on low-density development of the site, which would entail the construction of 50 to 60 residential and commercial units.

A high-density alternative calls for up to 160 units, predicated on building an above-tracks platform at an estimated cost of more than $13 million, according to a 2012 preliminary engineering study by Los Angeles-based AECOM. An accompanying parking garage would cost another $13 million-plus.

‘The numbers were just so stark,” Mt. Lebanon Economic Development Council chairman Blaine Lucas said at a recent commission meeting, explaining the low-density recommendation. “That seemed like the way we should go.”

Development in that manner would occur principally along East Shady Drive, adjacent to the transit station.

Dan Santoro, Delta Development Group vice president, said the site could be a strong candidate for construction of residential units.

“There’s a lot of activity in multifamily types of development, and that bodes well for this particular type of project,” he told commissioners, citing demand created by baby boomers who are downsizing, young adults seeking rentals and “folks who have been displaced from single-family homes.”

The local market for new retail space might not be quite as strong, according to Delta’s study:

“While the local market is affluent, the close proximity of major shopping malls is a challenge in terms of capturing local spending potential. Similarly, the addition of new residential units will generate increased street activity, but again, not enough to make a notable impact in terms of generating a need for significant new retail space.”

Similarly, the site is “not seen as a primary location for multistory office-type development,” Mr. Santoro said. His firm’s study notes that “small-scale office space could be an option on the first floor of a multistory residential building.”

Even if the municipality pursues the recommended option for the transit-oriented development, the high-density approach still would be a possibility if developers show sufficient interest, said Mr. Lucas.

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