New off-campus student housing, multi-purpose building planned for Forbes


Zoom screenshot

An Oakland-wide community meeting Tuesday night provided updates on a new proposed development along Forbes Avenue.

By Thea Barrett, For The Pitt News

Oaklanders may need to get ready for more construction on Forbes Avenue, and the symphony of slower traffic, roadblocks and truck noises that come with it.

The Oakland Planning and Development Corp. held a community meeting online Tuesday night, providing a space to give updates on projects happening around the neighborhood as well as allowing community members to give their feedback. Clark Street Holdings presented its plan to develop a multi-use space, similar to the recently constructed Bridge on Forbes building, on the former site of the Marathon gas station at 3500 Forbes Ave.

The development intends to be a multi-unit residential, commercial, office and retail space with lots of accessible vehicle and bicycle parking. Jessica Leo of Dwell Design Studios said each project is inspired and designed around the area it’s located in.

“We have projects now in 38 states at the country’s best colleges and universities, and we’ve learned from that that every city, college, town and community is unique,” Leo said. “Thus, every project is designed with that sensitivity in mind.”

The project combines five plots on Forbes Avenue between Semple Street and McKee Place totalling roughly 51,000 square feet, including the gas station, parking lot and surrounding area. Community members were encouraged to ask questions in the Zoom chat box, and some asked how this increased traffic might affect the surrounding neighborhoods. Architect Jay Silverman said the underground parking lot has two entrances on each side street that are intended to funnel traffic in a way that should circle back to Forbes without needing to involve the back streets any more than they are already being used.

Community members also specifically asked whether this housing would just be off-campus housing for Pitt or other college students. Leo said students are the primary target audience, but that they wouldn’t stop anyone else from moving in.

Attendees didn’t seem fully satisfied with the answers to their questions because they asked follow-up questions and complained in the chat. For example, some asked about building materials and didn’t feel like they got a clear answer. Others asked about the height of rooms and entrances and expressed their concern in the chat. One community member asked if there would be any minority participation in the development of this project, other than women. Kevin McKeegan of Meyer, Unkovic & Scott LLP nervously laughed and said it has not been considered yet at this time.

“Let me put it this way, we haven’t even gotten to the point where we are looking at bidding,” McKeegan said. “We are certainly going to do everything we can to meet the City’s requirements and goals for minority participation.”

McKeegan said the development team hopes to hold a formal development activities meeting sponsored by OPDC in early December, followed by the City Planning Commission process in early 2021.

McKeegan said he hoped this could be the start of a positive relationship between the community and new establishments.

“This is really the first public presentation of the project, and frankly we’re very interested in the public’s response and questions about the project,” McKeegan said. “We really do hope this could be the start of a dialogue that could guide the process moving forward.”

The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority provided an update during the second half of the meeting on Oakland construction to pour concrete and repave roads after lead pipe removal earlier this year. The agency also presented its future construction schedule.