Oakland Crossings disagrees with many locals

A public meeting Monday night on Walnut Capital’s proposal Oakland Crossings the development was marked by laconic exchanges and deep disagreements on the future of the district. During a closely managed 90-minute Zoom meeting, residents raised concerns about building heights and uses, parking and, on several occasions, affordable housing.

“We have seen countless individuals and families in South Oakland and the surrounding areas disappear due to the lack of affordable housing,” said Ty Williams, longtime South Oakland resident and president of the South Oakland Neighborhood Group. “We have seen developers misinterpret company benefits as community agreements. “

Oakland Crossings would rebuild nearly 18 acres of the neighborhood, with plans for new housing along McKee Place, mixed-use buildings along Halket Street, a grocery store, expanded green spaces, and an elevated pedestrian bridge over Desks Boulevard. Allies. Walnut Capital requested changes to zoning bylaws to create a new public domain sub-district, so that development can be done holistically.

The company says its plan will attract new non-student residents to the area who will support amenities like a grocery store and help reverse population decline in the area.

“Oakland is not a place for workers to live today,” said Todd Reidbord, president of the company. “You have to change that dynamic, or Oakland is going to continue on a downward spiral.”

But a flurry of chat comments noted that Walnut Capital was planning to demolish existing student housing, which residents said would displace students and raise prices in other “residential areas already overcrowded with student tenants.” wrote Geoffrey Becker.

Many others objected to the fact that Oakland Crossings, and the proposed regulation that would govern it, mentions affordable housing but does not define who it would be affordable for. Instead, it describes multi-storey mixed-use buildings and a plan to make 10 percent of housing units walkable. “Walnut Capital is currently working with the University of Pittsburgh on the initiative; housing would be open to their employees, but there are no specific income thresholds.

It was intentional, said Jonathan Kamin, counsel for Walnut Capital.

“The idea is to be able to have flexibility,” he said. “We believe this will create the greatest diversity of income and housing in the neighborhood. “

Concerns about parking and traffic, oddly tall buildings with large offices, and maintaining Oakland’s residential character were also hotly debated throughout the meeting. The plan has aroused similar concerns since zoning legislation was introduced to Pittsburgh City Council by Mayor Bill Peduto’s office in September.

The administration, which is in its final weeks before Peduto leaves office, remains loyal to Walnut Capital. Peduto chief of staff Dan Gilman wrote in a statement that “when positive and important opportunities for a neighborhood arise, you have to seize the moment.”

Monday’s public meeting – required by city bylaws before a proposal can be submitted to the Planning Commission – was hosted by Oakland Planning and Development Corporation, one of two community organizations registered for Oakland. (The other is Oakland Business Improvement District, which approved the project.)

The OPDC openly criticized the proposal since its introduction. And during the meeting, OPDC Executive Director Wanda Wilson did not allow Walnut Capital to display her presentation, leaving Kamin to talk about 12 pages of zoning text. She later asked why the company wanted to allow “utility” as the primary use – a designation that can include substations, power plants, or sewage collection.

Reidbord said they wanted to be able to have micro-generation plants or solar panels, and accused Wilson of using “fear tactics” to distract from the company’s objective of a. “Quality and quality development”. On several occasions, he described concerns about the displacement of housing as “false narratives” and called the dissent around the project coming from a “small group of people … most of them are participating in this call” .

They “don’t share our vision for Oakland’s future,” he said. Corn “[i]It’s up to our elected officials and others to see what’s best for the city and what’s best for Oakland.

Councilor Bruce Kraus, who represents the region, said his office has worked closely with Kamin to revise legislation that will govern development. This proposal will go to the Planning Commission in early 2022.

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