Residents discuss Oakland construction plans at OPDC meeting


Via Zoom

Pitt began briefing the City Planning Commision on its Institutional Master Plan on Tuesday.

By Brandon Raglow, For The Pitt News

For Oakland residents, additional construction projects in the neighborhood may loom ahead.

Residents voiced concerns at Tuesday evening’s Oakland Planning and Development Corp. meeting about a new South Oakland housing project planned near Phipps Conservatory at the intersection of Boundary Street and Yarrow Way. A developer, Thomas Liang, proposed turning a vacant lot into five townhomes, and while plans aren’t finalized yet, residents are concerned the homes would be rented out rather than owned.

The project has been in the planning process in various forms for several years — Liang originally proposed building eight units on the lot, which was met with community opposition because it would not be in compliance with zoning rules, according to OPDC’s website. He then pared the plans back to constructing six units, which ultimately languished in the City’s zoning process.

But Liang is looking to get a variance to allow for six houses to be built instead of five. Kendall Pelling, a consultant working with the development team, said Liang is attempting to ensure that the units become owner occupied and are not rented out. But if five units are built, Pelling said, the only financially viable option available would be to rent them out.

While Wilson mentioned the OPDC had suggested a community land trust structure to ensure that the houses would remain owner-occupied, Pelling said Liang had looked into it and decided against the risk that might create.

One resident went so far Tuesday night as to tell developers to “just give up.”

Residents responded more favorably to representatives from MCF MacLachlan Cornelius Filoni, Inc. as they introduced the plans to restore two UPMC Children’s Hospital buildings. The work will consist of updating the buildings’ facades, replacing the roofs and adding an elevator room. William Szymczak, a principal at MCF, said the UPMC Children’s Hospital Office Building and Oakland Medical Building on Fifth Avenue have become bleached by the sun over the years. He said the buildings will be redone with a special coating material to prevent peeling and fading.

Tom Pierce, a project architect from MCF, said aside from the facade and the work on the buildings themselves, the parking lot will be repaved and relined to provide more space. He added that because of numerous accidents that have occured due to the lot’s tight spaces, one goal is to “create more gracious parking.”

Wanda Wilson, the OPDC executive director, said Pitt briefed the City Planning Commision at its Wednesday meeting about the latest iteration of its Institutional Master Plan. The plan, which will guide University construction priorities over the short and medium terms, has gone through several draft phases and is now headed to the City for approval. According to Wilson, this is the first meeting of many about the IMP, which precedes an official hearing about the plan.

Wilson provided updates on the OPDC’s program for residents in Oakland. Senior citizens can request volunteers to shovel snow and the OPDC is also running a free “Bridges to Career Opportunities” program to provide remote career training for job seekers. Wilson also announced that the Green Grocer, a program from the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, is now serving Oakland.

Wilson ended the meeting by reminding attendees about using forms on OPDC’s website to provide thoughts and feedback about the presentations, and that its next monthly meeting would be March 30.

A previous version of this article said Thomas Liang planned to rent out the houses if six units are built. The article has been updated with the correct information — Liang will rent out the houses if only five units are built. The Pitt News regrets this error.