Zoning Board OKs plans for City of Asylum literary center in North Side
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Alphabet City -- a proposed literary center in the Central North Side -- has gotten the go-ahead from the zoning board of adjustment.
City of Asylum Pittsburgh proposed the center to serve as its headquarters and as public space for literary events. City of Asylum president Henry Reese called the zoning board's decision "a wonderful holiday gift."
But attorney David Toal, who represents nearby neighbors who are opposed to the project, said he will file an appeal in Common Pleas Court to reverse Thursday's decision "right after the first of the year."
Mr. Reese and his wife, Diane Samuels, established COAP as a nonprofit in 2004 to give asylum -- a home and financial support -- to threatened writers. It currently houses two writers from Myanmar and Venezuela on Sampsonia Way. The new center would include two apartments for additional writers.
At 1406 Monterey St., it would occupy three lots, replacing a nuisance bar, a home and a vacant lot between them. The structures have recently been demolished.
The organization faced zoning hurdles in proposing the three-story building on three lots, most notably because it provided for no off-street parking. Zoning requirements for the center's integrated uses -- a cafe, bookstore and two apartments -- required seven spaces.
Several residents testified in October that there isn't sufficient on-street parking on busy nights in the neighborhood now, but the board was satisfied with the results of a traffic and parking study by Trans Associates that showed sufficient on-street parking even during peak activity at the center.
The Trans Associates study covered an area within 600 feet of the site.
Mr. Toal said the board "ignored our testimony" and approved the parking exception without a parking plan from COAP, which he said was supposed to have been presented before getting the exception.
He cited the board's wording about hours as too vague. The wording is that the board "is concerned that the proposed hours [7 a.m. to 11 p.m.] are too broad and may negatively impact residents in the immediate area. ... Therefore the board proposes Mr. Reese develop more limited operational hours as a condition for approval."
"That's like saying 'play nice' but not saying what 'nice' is," Mr. Toal said.
The other zoning hurdles included the need for a variance for the two apartments and a waiver for having no side yard and rear setbacks. Both were granted.
Immediate neighbors had testified of their concern about noise and late hours. Mr. Reese said the hours can be flexible and that the cafe would not be a full-blown restaurant but an incidental part of the literary purpose of the center.
Opponents also criticized the design for being out of sync with historic buildings around it.
The board's decision stated that the structure, in replacing a nuisance bar and developing a vacant lot, "may, in fact, be considered contributions [sic] to the neighborhood's safety and public health."
First Published December 24, 2011 12:00 am