What a difference a month makes!
A month ago, City plans for the “Allegheny Riverfront” invited a torrent of criticism which perhaps culminated in a widely circulated and powerful editorial:
That’s a useful two-word assessment of the Buncher Co.’s plan for a riverside development adjacent to the Strip District. Let’s not make $50 million in public financing assistance available for a huge private project that pays scant attention to a city-sponsored master-planning process for that area. (Tribune Review)
Who knows what has changed since that time?
Perhaps the prospects of 3 thousand new permanent jobs, 3 thousand construction jobs, and tax revenue of $33 million per year softened people’s thinking. Perhaps a fear of parties and interests getting labeled as “anti-growth” loomed large. Perhaps the desert of asphalt gave lie to gentrification-style complaints.
Maybe the opposition just never bothered to count votes.
But after a special public meeting on Monday and a public hearing on Tuesday, Councilor Patrick Dowd said, “We have a lot of work to do,” but “I’m eager to support this.” Councillor Bill Peduto said, “The soup isn’t ready yet,” yet that “given another six hours, the people in this room could figure it out.” Councilor Theresa Smith said, “developers work with communities all the time,” and that she “wants to bring the parties together.”
Neighboring stake holders, concerned organizations and public speakers approached the development with likewise equanimity.
If only delivery access through Smallman St. can be preserved…
If only the buffer zone from the river bank could be made larger, to protect the health of the river and the flood plane…
If only the old produce terminal could be better incorporated and utilized…
If only the general character and design of the development was harmonious with what we have in the Strip…
If only we knew what sorts of commercial tenants are going in there, exactly…
If only there was a better certainty of parks, open spaces and pedestrian river access…
If only the railroad right-of-way could be accommodated, perhaps enabling commuter rail one day…
If only the development could comply with the City’s new storm water regulations for public development in a more fully rigorous and generously interpreted way…
And, surrounding it all, if only about $50 million in tax increment financing (TIF) wasn’t necessary to provide the sewers and streets generally required in any brand new neighborhood.
So you see what is happening here. The environmental advocates are developing a keen interest in railroad rights-of-way. The preservationists are beginning to learn things about the wholesaling business. The kayakers and bicyclists are learning all about TIFs, and to develop expectations.
To be certain, the project has so many outstanding unresolved issues, it’s a little embarrassing to have it in the spotlight in this condition. Yet the zoning changes it apparently necessitates simply had to move forward, lest disillusionment and inertia risk being allowed to set in. Alas and alack, lines in the sand and on the table are now being drawn with furious and political aplomb.
A text amendment will be necessary!, declared Peduto, a likely mayoral challenger, having finagled a legitimate parliamentary excuse from his colleagues to speak freely during a public hearing while reporters were still at work. To earn Peduto’s vote — which these days, translates to three votes out of nine, maybe four on a good day — any new zoning legislation Council passes must be changed contingent upon points he will outline a letter he is about to refine and release.
(Meanwhile, fellow likely mayoral challenger Michael Lamb would have been elsewhere, as is his accustomed privilege as City Controller, biding his time on thorny development issues while perhaps catching up on some old-school prothonatation.)
Three or four votes is not five, however — and most members simply desire to responsibly navigate the legal snafus while striking the best deal that is strike-ready between communities, the property holder, and the City. One could say that is Council’s position.
A lot of the disparate concerns boil down to that accessory area of the Strip maintaining its residual magnetism as a delivery hub, a port really — multi-modal, spacious, spontaneous and full of opportunity. We see those parking lots as “seas of asphalt,” but heck, they’re probably welcome hotels and storage lockers to the occasional visitor.
Pittsburgh Vendor: Whoa, whoa… what are you doing here, buddy?
Random Trucker: Oh, man. I’m sorry, but I’ve got to get these paw-print sweat pants off the street and I’m looking at this map…
Pittsburgh Vendor: WE LOVE PAW-PRINT SWEATPANTS!!!
That is one reason the Comet strenuously prefers the name “Port Buncher” over the imperial and soullessly bourgeois moniker, “Riverfront Landing.”
If only the developers can be perceived to be presiding over a curated marketplace of opportunity: combining old-world elbow-jostling esprit de corps within the newer-school vertically integrated framework. The giveaway is the fact that this area once combined shipping access with train access with functionally public portage platforms and terminals. Those specific commercial tactics are gone, but the strategy underlying those tactics might still be employable as an accessory — the success of today’s Strip District proves that it merits serious creative deliberation.
Mr. Balestrieri of Buncher Co. did a more than fine job depicting his development as “connecting residents to the river front,” which would also, “connect the Strip to the river, and build the Strip, Pittsburgh’s next high-growth neighborhood.”
Because after all, “The central business district [the Golden Triangle] needs to expand,” and so, this “Can’t continue to be a surface parking lots for the next several decades.”
Of particular note is that Buncher already owns the vast majority of these 55 specific acres of land, as well as land way up the river front into Lawrenceville. This distinguishes it from other recent controversial developments, in which large parcels of public land were being released into the wild of the private sector. Additionally, the desirability to most City leaders of residential growth in locations such as that is great — it’s legacy building.
It is not known what is Buncher’s “Plan B” for all this riverfront property if the zoning changes and other arrangements made in collusion with the Mayor and his URA fall through. Perhaps they will go a’fracking; 55 acres would be more than sufficient under new proposed legislation.