Pittsburgh City Council gives nod to Buncher site compromise

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Gated streets in Buncher Co.'s Riverfront Landing project would have to provide through-access for pedestrians and bicyclists, under zoning legislation that received a preliminary nod from city council Wednesday despite Councilman Patrick Dowd's call for much wider public access to the Allegheny River.

Mr. Dowd had demanded that Buncher develop the 55-acre Strip District site in accordance with the Allegheny Riverfront Vision Plan and the Allegheny Riverfront Green Boulevard Plan, which stress the importance of public access to the riverfront. Mr. Dowd, who will represent the Buncher site under a coming reapportionment of council districts, wanted to strike gated streets from Buncher's plans.

Council President Darlene Harris introduced a compromise: access on gated streets for pedestrians and bicyclists making their way to and from the river. Council voted 5 to 4 for that requirement and Mrs. Harris' other proposals, including one that slightly increased the setback requirements for riverfront buildings in part of the development.

Mr. Dowd said council, given an opportunity to extract concessions for the public, won nothing.

"It is nothing more than a gated community in the Strip District," he said of the development.

In addition to Mrs. Harris, council members Ricky Burgess, Theresa Kail-Smith, R. Daniel Lavelle and Corey O'Connor voted for the amendments and creation of a special zoning district for Buncher's project. Mr. Dowd, Bruce Kraus, Bill Peduto and Natalia Rudiak voted against the amendments and zoning district.

Buncher had proposed a 70-foot setback for riverfront buildings. Mr. Dowd had demanded 95 feet, in keeping with the green boulevard plan. Mrs. Harris' amendment made the setback 75 feet in part of the development and 70 feet in the rest.

"This property does not belong to the city. This property belongs to the Buncher Co.," Mrs. Harris said, adding that her amendments were an effort "to negotiate what we could."

Buncher's development would stretch from the Veterans Bridge to 21st Street between Smallman Street and the river. It would involve Buncher's purchase of the historic produce terminal, now owned by the Urban Redevelopment Authority, and demolition of one-third of the building so 17th Street can be extended to the river.

Mrs. Harris' amendments also limit the use of concrete barriers along the riverfront, ensure public access to the riverfront at 15th Street and require storefronts in every building along 17th Street, a main part of the development.

Special zoning districts give developers flexibility in designing big projects, and Buncher requested a designation for Riverfront Landing. Mr. Dowd, however, had hoped to use the legislation to secure more public access to the river and wrest other concessions.

Mr. Dowd is still sitting on separate legislation that would create a tax-increment financing plan of up to $50 million for the development.

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Joe Smydo: jsmydo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1548.


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