Community members express concerns over plans for Bates row houses

The+Oakland+Planning+and+Development+Corp.%E2%80%99s+June+24+meeting+discussed+the+pending+demolition+of+the+rowhouses+located+at+3401-3421+Bates+St.+and+transferral+of+the+property+to+Pitt.%0A

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The Oakland Planning and Development Corp.’s June 24 meeting discussed the pending demolition of the rowhouses located at 3401-3421 Bates St. and transferral of the property to Pitt.

By Clare Sheedy, Staff Writer

After years of dealing with the series of boarded up and uninhabited Bates Street row houses, Oakland community members are making sure the pending owner of the parcel — Walnut Capital — has definitive plans to fix up the area.

The Oakland Planning and Development Corp. held a City-mandated development activities meeting on June 24 to discuss the pending demolition of the rowhouses located at 3401-3421 Bates St. In order to obtain a demolition permit, Walnut Capital, a local property management company that lawyer Jon Kamin represents, revealed their plan to demolish, stabilize and plant grass on the parcel, then transfer the property to Pitt.

“We’ve been working on this site for probably six months, maybe a little bit more, and I think the plans are very much open,” Kamin said. “Right now, we don’t have any specific plans other than to demolish.”

The property will cost roughly $5 million — a price the University will pay, along with separate fees for demolition and other expenses. Kamin said there is a formal agreement between Walnut Capital and Pitt, but did not wish to comment on its terms and declined to comment on the University’s future plans for the properties.

When asked if Walnut Capital plans to salvage and repurpose any material, Kamin said the properties are in too dire of a condition to preserve anything.

“Unfortunately, there’s really nothing on this site that is able to be reused. Many of the buildings don’t even have floors in them so when you walk in there’s nothing but a gigantic hole to the basement,” Kamin said. “Most of the wood and the infrastructure inside them are rotted.”

After the roughly four-minute presentation, Wanda Wilson, executive director of OPDC, led an open forum in which she voiced the community’s questions and concerns left in the Zoom and Facebook Live chat boxes. Initial questions sought clarification on property management and potential traffic complications.

Kamin said Walnut Capital will uphold several property management efforts once they secure the parcel, including a promise to cut and maintain the grass, clean up litter on the properties and replace any hazardous sidewalk.

The demolition, which Walnut Capital hopes to complete during the first or second week of August, will not affect public utilities though it may disrupt traffic. According to Kamin, one lane of Bates Street may be closed with a potential re-routing of traffic.

Kamin said if Walnut Capital fails to schedule the demolition date before the third week of August, there may be traffic complications ahead as Pitt students return to campus in late August.

“Assuming we get planning commission approval in July, our intent is to demolish it in August,” Kamin said. “The good news is that we think if we’re able to get this done within the first two weeks of August, that we will essentially miss any interaction or problems that come with [Pitt students’ return to campus].”

Members of the Oakland community in attendance questioned what exactly Walnut Capital intends to do with the Bates Street parcel beyond demolition. Andrea Boykowycz, community services director at OPDC, expressed concern about the University extending its reach further into Oakland after the property transfer is completed.

“I’m not aware of any Oakland resident who would welcome expansion of Pitt’s campus to the south end of Central Oakland,” Boykowycz said.

Timothy Parenti, an Oakland community member and Pitt alumnus, said he’s frustrated with the lack of comment from the University at the meeting and said all he wants is clarification on the definitive project plans.

“Really unconscionable that Pitt is allowed to be silent at this meeting, frankly,” Parenti said. “Just clear that Pitt ‘does’ have plans and that that should be read into the record, despite their disappointing choice to be silent here today.”

Two Pitt officials — Alex Toner, assistant director of community engagement, and Mary Beth McGrew, associate vice chancellor for planning, design and real estate — also attended but did not initially comment on issues raised by community members.

After OPDC representatives and community members called on Pitt representatives to speak multiple times, Toner addressed the meeting.

“I can’t speak for any plans for the site right now but I want everyone to know that I’m here on behalf of CGR,” Toner said. “As we have more information to share, Jamie [Ducar] and I will be out at every community meeting to share everything we have.”

While the meeting ended with a slew of unanswered questions pertaining to the University’s involvement with the Bates Street parcel, Wilson promised to continue the conversation in the months to come.  

“For OPDC’s part, we will make sure that there is future conversation about this parcel and its future,” Wilson said. “Given the fact that tonight all we’re knowing is about the demolition plan because that’s all that’s required for this particular City-required development activities meeting.”

The next steps for Walnut Capital are to acquire the property and obtain a demolition permit. If they succeed, they hope to demolish, stabilize and seed this August before selling to Pitt soon after. Kamin reassured community members that they will be made aware of any future plans for the parcel when the time comes. According to Kamin, for right now, “it’s a little bit of a stay tuned.”

“Anything in the future that has to happen on these properties will have to come through a public process and OPDC and the community will certainly be involved in those discussions in terms of what it’s going to be,” Kamin said “But, again, this is step one in a multi-step process.”

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