In the Sept. 16 article, “Planned Beechwood development builds concern among neighbors,” a quote identifies the property at 1830 Beechwood Ave. as “uninhabitable.” While the term was used during a community meeting, the article did not note that Richard and Nancy Silvers currently live in the home, which Nancy Silvers described as “beautiful.” The Chronicle regrets the omission.
Walls are not yet tumbling down, but there is a fracture among those invested in the building at 1830 Beechwood Blvd. The historic home, which sits on 1.38 acres in residential Squirrel Hill, rests at the heart of a neighborhood dispute.
In May 2002, the 5,887-square-foot house was purchased by Richard and Nancy Silvers for $525,000. After several years of failed attempts to sell the home at prices ranging between $1.5 million and $2.5 million, the Silvers might finally bid farewell to a property once occupied by Ernest Stern, president of Associated Theaters, while neighbors may greet a new residential development.
Nearby residents had a chance to meet their potential neighbor on Wednesday, Sept. 7 at a community meeting hosted by Councilman Corey O’Connor and the Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh. As more than 100 attendees packed the crowded conference room, developer Kristopher Senko, managing partner of Senko Construction, Inc., told those present that the home is currently “uninhabitable.”
“To get it to where it has to be, no family could do that,” said Senko.
Instead, Senko has proposed to raze the 94-year-old art deco-style mansion and build 11 three-story single-family homes, each with four bedrooms, three-and-a-half bathrooms and a two-car integral parking garage. In order to accomplish this, Senko plans to request multiple variances from the City of Pittsburgh’s Zoning Board of Adjustment at a hearing on Sept. 22. Among his proposals are reducing lot sizes from a required 8,000-square-foot minimum to, in some cases, 3,250 square feet.
“We based this project off of what will work,” said Senko.
The target price for each unit, he said, will be “around $950,000. … We’re going off of comparables. We’re not trying to break the market.”
Senko’s remarks, as well as those of Nathan Hart, an architect working on the project, were firmly challenged by local residents who, among other concerns, questioned whether Senko’s plans were a bit too pie-in-the-sky.
There is a question of economic viability: “Can you really sell them at a million dollars per lot?” asked Richard Feder, president of the Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition. “We have seen lots of condo projects, whether at Summerset, some for half a million and up, and that’s attached townhouses, so I don’t know what to say about a million. Certainly lots of new sales are pretty high.”
Over the past year, median home sales in Squirrel Hill South were $365,000, an 11 percent increase from the previous year, according to Trulia.com.
Such trends are concerning, said Josh Lederer, a Squirrel Hill resident who attended the community meeting.
“There is a lack of affordable housing in these projects,” he said. Squirrel Hill has “expensive homes and student rentals, but where’s the starter house?”
Senko stressed the potential of the project to protect existing home values.
“There will be significant improvement to the value of the homes [nearby]. I don’t see how it would do anything else,” he said.
Price, though, wasn’t the only topic of contention.
“All of us who touch that property, none of us are feeling comfortable about it. It’s just too much, there’s no room around it; the green space is all gone. It’s just thumbs down for me,” said Sheila Wallace, whose property abuts 1830 Beechwood Blvd.
“I think this is such an egregious infraction — 11 monstrosities on this lot; it’s infuriating,” added Maryann Donovan, Wallace’s neighbor.
“It’s completely out of context with the rest of the neighborhood,” offered Robert Garvin, an attorney representing Jonathan and Lindsey Isaacson, other neighbors of the land in question.
“This is just a wonderful suburban neighborhood in the middle of a city, and we’re going to have a development that looks like it belongs in New Jersey behind us,” said Donovan.
Nancy Silvers responded by stressing the area’s need to add to its housing stock.
“Squirrel Hill needs new construction,” she said. “Look at all the development in East Liberty. Squirrel Hill needs to keep up.”
“It’s a benefit, it’s growth,” reasoned Senko. “Development and change isn’t always a bad thing.”
Sherri Mayer, a Squirrel Hill-based realtor with more than two decades of experience in the neighborhood, said that the construction has the benefit of “better walkability than Summerset.” “We need new construction somewhere so that people can walk in the neighborhood,” she said.
Mayer referenced 5615 Woodmont St. in Squirrel Hill as illustrative of Senko’s pricing logic. The 4,698-square-foot, five-bedroom, three-and-a-half bathroom renovated townhouse, which sits on a 6,847-square-foot lot, sold for $912,000 in April. “It was on the market for one day,” said Mayer.
“The Squirrel Hill market is hot,” agreed Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition past president Raymond Baum. “But I don’t know. They’re asking for a lot of variances; there will be a lot of give and take.”
While it is unclear whether Senko and residents will meet prior to the 10:20 a.m. Sept. 22 hearing, issues raised for discussion include potential privacy loss, landscaping, decreased water pressure, traffic impact, runoffs and proposed design choices.
“I think we have to see ultimately what the final product is,” said O’Connor, cautioning against racing to judgment. “This project could take different shape in a week. It could turn into something that everybody likes at the end of the day; that’s why I like to keep an open mind.”
O’Connor also stressed that “the city has no financing” in either the 1830 Beechwood Blvd. project or another project at 2170 Murray Ave., which was also discussed at the community meeting. That project concerns a proposal to build a five-story residential building with nearly 39 units and roughly 55 parking spaces at the site of the former Burton L. Hirsch Funeral Home.
“Every project that comes up in the district, I always have a community meeting. This was our process,” O’Connor said. “The job of the elected is take it to the community and hear feedback from everyone there.”
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.