Plans for Consol Energy site in Upper St. Clair give neighbors traffic worries
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Plans for a Whole Foods Market and possibly a drive-thru Starbucks and Burgatory restaurant at the former headquarters of Consol Energy in Upper St. Clair have residents in the area still concerned about one "major" headache: traffic gridlock.
"This desperately needs to be addressed," said resident Nancy Bernard about the already-nightmarish traffic congestion in the area of the former headquarters at Fort Couch and Route 19 corridor. "We have a lot of questions about traffic, specifically on Fort Couch Road."
Ms. Bernard and other residents, including Randy Shaffer, who lives on Fort Couch, came to a township planning commission meeting last Thursday where plans were unveiled by an architect and engineer representing the developer, 1800 Washington Road Associates.
Sixteen months ago, township commissioners approved a controversial zoning text amendment to permit the mixed-use development on the 29-acre site over the objections of dozens of residents who cited traffic and safety concerns.
Residents who attended last Thursday's meeting reiterated their desire for a right-turn-only lane into and out of the development at Fort Couch Road and a new right-turn lane onto Route 19 South from Fort Couch.
"The right-turn lane is critical," Mr. Shaffer said. "It's well overdue."
"Certainly that is a major concern," said project architect Dale K. Earl of Fahringer, McCarty, Grey Inc. in Monroeville.
Mr. Earl said he is "certain" that the state Department of Transportation will require the developer to build that new right lane from Fort Couch to Route 19 once a new traffic report is compiled.
The development group in 2011 conducted a traffic study showing that the area already has an outdated intersection design that fails to address daily traffic flows. A new study will be required before the township decides whether to grant approval for the project.
Mr. Earl said the developer is waiting for a new Target to open at South Hills Village to get a better idea of realistic traffic patterns and backups. After that happens, the developer will come before the township for approval of construction plans, he said.
Mr. Earl and Justin Cipriani of Cipriani Studios gave planning commission members and about a dozen residents a peek at what to expect from the development, called Siena at St. Clair.
In 2011, tentative plans indicated the site might host a big-box retailer -- possibly Best Buy, which developer Gerald Cipriani said had been in discussions to relocate from its current store in nearby Village Square -- along with restaurants, other retail and multifamily residential units.
The big-box plans have now been scuttled in favor of a 40,000-square-foot Whole Foods Market, which will serve as the primary anchor for the site, along with an 85,000-square-foot central shopping center that will have an open arcade with outdoor dining at restaurants, retailers and office space. An adjoining residential development will have 33 patio homes and townhomes, the development team said, along with small "pocket" parks throughout the site, with seating and gazebos.
The homes will be priced at about $400,000 for a 2,000-square-foot townhome and about $600,000 per patio home, which includes 2,500 square feet of living space, Justin Cipriani said.
Much of the existing vegetation and wetlands will be left in place at the site, designed to be "pedestrian-friendly," Justin Cipriani said.
"It will feel like a walkable village" with a Colonial/Mediterranean theme, he said, including stone, stucco and aged-brick facades, warm woods, antique lighting fixtures and Italian barrel-tile roofing.
Whole Foods, a natural and organic grocery store based in Austin, Texas, will have 222 parking spaces, half of which will be underground in an open-air garage with elevators.
To minimize the impact to several neighborhoods abutting the site, the grocery store will not exceed 45 feet in height, it will face into the development and delivery trucks will use the underground garage.
Hal A. Kestler, Gerald Cipriani's partner in the development team, said he was "extremely excited" to bring the grocer to the area.
"We share the Whole Foods philosophy of quality, wholesome products grown with respect for our environment," he said.
The company, which hopes to open its third Pittsburgh-area location -- others are in East Liberty and McCandless -- by the fall of 2015, also expressed a commitment to the process.
"We are proud to seek and develop in areas that share a strong commitment and passion for quality natural and organic foods," said Scott Allhouse, Whole Foods Market Mid-Atlantic region president. "Opening in South Hills is an excellent opportunity for us to plant solid roots, encourage economic growth, job creation and community engagement. We are looking forward to joining the neighborhood and curating long-lasting relationships and partnerships in South Hills and its surrounding areas."
Retaining walls and strategically placed parking lots and lighting will further shield neighbors from the commercial development, Justin Cipriani said.
"It's really been a long process of honing with a lot of people, like neighbors, builders and retailers," Justin Cipriani said.
Workers began demolishing the Consol office building two months ago, and the team hopes to break ground by the end of this year, if all of the required permits are in place.
First Published February 28, 2013 5:55 am