Oaklanders receive updates on neighborhood projects


Vaibhav Gupta | Contributing Writer

Representatives from Walnut Capital, Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority and the University of Pittsburgh discussed development plans with the community on Wednesday evening.

By Vaibhav Gupta, Staff Writer

Oakland community members gathered Wednesday night as representatives from three different institutions — Pitt, Shadyside developer Walnut Capital and the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority — provided updates on projects that affect the neighborhood.

The Oakland Planning and Development Corporation hosted the two-hour event at the Oakland Career Center on Semple Street. Pitt presented two projects at the event — one relating to the University’s branding and another about a new food delivery initiative starting this fall.

Kate Ledger, Pitt’s assistant vice chancellor for marketing, said the University is changing its street pole banners from the old blue and gold color scheme to the redesigned retro colors. Some of these banners are already placed on upper campus in North Oakland near Sutherland Hall and the Petersen Events Center, but Pitt plans to place them on lower campus in Central Oakland.

Ledger added that while the University has already decided on a new color scheme, it wants to be sure to include the community in the public display of the new branding as it seeks approval from the City Art Commission.

“A lot of research has gone into this process,” Ledger said. “It’s really important, as we go through this, that we are building consensus throughout the University and the alumni and all of our constituents.”

Pitt also spoke about a new partnership between the University and Starship Technologies, an autonomous personal delivery company, utilizing the delivery robots to bring food made by Sodexo, Pitt’s dining contractor, across campus. David Catania, the head of government affairs for Starship Technologies, said the company plans to start a pilot with 25 robots in late September, charging a flat $1.99 fee per delivery.

Catania said the goal of robot delivery is to help reduce other costs created with food delivery such as congestion and pollution — the company said the delivery bots are 32 times more efficient than cars. He added that the robots are designed to avoid noise disturbances such as beeping noises, but they do produce a small humming noise.

He added that the company is in talks with the City about where its services can operate, but is currently focused on Pitt’s campus first to make sure that the community is comfortable with the technology.

“At the moment, it’s primarily the University … we are open to going beyond that, but we want to be respectful to the City and introduce it slowly and in a measured way that increases the comfort level,” Catania said.

South Oakland resident Elena Zaitsoff said she is “very intrigued” about bringing delivery robots to the neighborhood.

“I can actually see students use it quite a bit because I always see students getting delivery in my neighborhood,” Zaitsoff said. “I don’t know what happens on campus, but it would be helpful to have here.”

Representatives from Shadyside developer Walnut Capital also spoke at the event, discussing their plans to build a 10-story office building, located at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Halket Street, with space for technical, medical and research companies. The building will feature 6,200 square feet of retail space on the ground floor, as well as 100 parking spaces.

Tom Price, the project’s architect and a principal with the Pittsburgh design firm Strada, said the building is designed to comply with high levels of LEED environmental certifications and will feature solar arrays on the roof.

“We’re trying to be as sustainable as we can,” Price said.

Oakland resident Andrea Boyukowycz said that she is proud that Walnut Capital is working to make the building as sustainable as possible.

“I was pleased to see that Walnut Capital is going to be pursuing a high level and elite certification for their building,” Boyukowycz said. “I would really love to see other developers follow suit with sustainability design.”

But the developer faced opposition from residents on the building’s height, which is 67 feet above the City limit of 85 feet. The City Zoning Board of Adjustment voted in May to grant the developer a special exemption.

Zaitsoff said she was upset the zoning board allowed the building to move forward to construction.

“The Walnut Capital building is too high,” Zaitsoff said. “It’s just too big to be here.”

A representative for the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority also spoke at the event, discussing several financial assistance options available to income-qualified residents. One program, the bill discount program, offers a 75% reduction of fixed monthly water and wastewater conveyance charges for customers at or below 150% of the federal poverty level.

The representative said that if individuals wanted to have their water tested for lead, they could request a water quality test from the PWSA, fill it with water and then mail it to a third-party testing lab.