Potential change at entrance to Squirrel Hill
Community members react to potential development at neighborhood gateway
Potential change is underway at the entrance to Squirrel Hill, as a proposal for a mixed-use retail and residential project located at 5800 Forward Ave. was put before approximately 125 community members during a meeting at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh on July 24.
The communitywide gathering allowed residents to meet with the developer and hear about his plan for what is now a vacant lot. Lori Fitzgerald, an architect and chair of the built environment committee at the Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition (SHUC), said the high attendance at the meeting demonstrated that there is “a lot of interest and significance in this project.”
As proposed, the nine-plus-story structure would consist of 125,000 square feet of residential space, 13,300 square feet of commercial/retail space and more than 52,000 square feet of structured parking. Three retail spaces would occupy the ground floor with another on the first floor, while the market-rate residential space would be divided into 44 studio units, 52 one-bedroom units and 29 two-bedroom units.
“There were a lot of questions and good conversation on what the development could be,” said Fitzgerald. But, she added, “a lot more information needs to be better understood by the community.”
Developer Herky Pollock, an East End resident and executive vice president at CBRE, Inc., is seeking a set-back and height variance from the Zoning Board of Adjustments (ZBA) for this project. A ZBA hearing is scheduled for Aug. 10, but Pollock may postpone his appearance to allow for more input from community members, said Marian Lien, executive director of SHUC.
“There are a lot of questions about the height and whether it’s appropriate for that location,” said Fitzgerald. Other concerns include the development’s impact on traffic, future accessways for passengers and vehicles, and potential building materials.
“The role of SHUC is to ensure our community’s interest as a stakeholder is represented at the table,” said Lien. “While we’ve been working hard to bring economic and property development to that corner, we’re diligent about making sure the proposed development is of a thoughtful design both aesthetically and one that adds to the quality of life for the community.”
Pollock addressed such concerns at the July 24 gathering.
“This is not a development, but a legacy opportunity to transform a site that is long overdue,” he said, calling the site’s blighted appearance “a travesty.” “I have tried to include the heart and soul of what the neighborhood needs,” he said. He also spoke of his two daughters and said this project would be “an opportunity to show them that with hard work, you can leave the world a better place.”
“That has been a blighted corner,” said state Rep. Dan Frankel. “Generally, this seems to me to be a significant improvement for Squirrel Hill.”
“It’s the gateway to Squirrel Hill and it’s very important to us,” echoed Councilman Corey O’Connor, who also mentioned construction underway at the nearby Seymoure and Corinne Krause Commons at 2607 Murray Ave. “As long as we can keep the projects moving forward, that would help us,” he said.
“We’re hoping it’s a catalyst for future projects on Forward Avenue and Murray Avenue,” said Scott Maritzer, an architect and project manager at Pieper O’Brien Herr Architects, while reviewing the renderings with listeners at the community meeting.
Added Pollock, “This is my heart and soul before you.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.