Public interest: Buncher's Strip District plan rates special attention
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Pittsburgh City Council took an important step backward Tuesday, when a proposed ordinance was introduced to create a special zoning district for Buncher Co.'s planned development in the Strip District.
While forward progress is the ultimate goal, Buncher's plans were moving ahead too fast. Advancing the legislation allows council to schedule a public hearing, where members can participate in a full airing of the project's details.
Last month, the planning commission held hearings and gave its stamp of approval. Since then, at least three council members have raised questions about Buncher's proposal and Councilman Patrick Dowd has delayed voting on a $50 million tax increment financing deal, presumably to fund infrastructure improvements to the site.
An overriding question is whether Buncher has the total site control required for designation as a special zoning district. The company owns most of the 55-acre parcel of land bordered by the Allegheny River on the north, Smallman Street on the south, the Veterans Bridge to the west and 21st Street to the east. However, Allegheny Valley Railroad claims that it holds an easement across the property.
The company's decision to retain most, but not all, of the historic produce terminal building that runs through the property is controversial, and community organizations are questioning other elements of the plan, too.
How much riverfront land should be exempted from building? Plans show a setback from the Allegheny River of 50 to 70 feet in most places, but Riverlife, the advocate for the city's riverfronts, believes at least 95 feet is necessary to preserve the riverbanks and create appropriate public spaces.
Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future has sued in federal court, claiming the project does not have adequate stormwater management plans.
The special zoning district legislation contains dozens of requirements, including how tall buildings should be, with limits of three, 15 or 20 stories at various points in the site.
Council has not yet scheduled its hearing. When it does, groups and residents who have concerns should register so they can raise them in the public forum.
The Strip District site is a critical piece in Pittsburgh's revitalization, and developers have only one chance to get it right. Proceeding with caution and openness is the smart approach.
First Published July 21, 2012 12:00 am