OPDC discusses UPMC signage, Carnegie Library banners and Walnut Capital proposal


Zoom screenshot

Michelle Weltner, UPMC project manager, discussed new signage that the health care giant plans to implement at the Oakland Planning and Development Corp. public meeting Tuesday.

By Natalie Frank, News Editor

Traffic congestion and pedestrian confusion may be a worry of the past, as UPMC works to update its building and direction signage in Oakland.

The Oakland Planning and Development Corp. held a public meeting Tuesday over Zoom to discuss new UPMC signage throughout Oakland and Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh lamp post and banner installation. The group also continued its conversation on zoning changes from a previous meeting last Wednesday.

Michelle Weltner, UPMC project manager, began the meeting with a presentation on new signage UPMC plans to implement, mainly near its Central Oakland facilities. Weltner said the new signage plan splits sections of Oakland into different “portals,” which she said will make it more accessible.

“But basically as you know, Oakland is a very congested complex area. There are quite a few facilities here,” Weltner said. “So what we want to do is similar to an airport, we want to kind of introduce a portal, a wayfinding path.”

Weltner said the new portal system would be available on the UPMC website and it, along with the new signage, would make navigating these UPMC locations much easier for patients. 

“So hopefully the signage being updated will help that, plus the look of Oakland as you know,”  Weltner said. “Now if you’re anywhere around Oakland, there’s probably about three or four generations of signs there spanning over probably about 20 years. So this will be a much needed facelift.”

Weltner said UPMC will update many of its older street signs, such as the sign on the corner of De Soto Street and Fifth Avenue, as well as UPMC building and garage signs. The signs are not only bigger than the old ones, but feature more clear wording, like “Presbyterian Parking” on a UPMC Presybyterian parking facility instead of just “Parking.” Many signs will change from blue to purple, and each sign will include a portal designation along with updated lettering and more explicit navigation directions for patients. 

Weltner also said the sign on the corner of Lothrop Street and Fifth Avenue will be bigger in hopes of being more visible and lead to less traffic congestion in the area. Weltner said while UPMC is still working on receiving permits for these signs, she is hoping they will be ready to start implementing some signs in a couple of months.

After the UPMC presentation, Sergai Matviev, an architect with Elagin Architecture, introduced the Carnegie Library’s plan to erect eight new lamp posts with double-sided banners attached to them. Matviev said five posts with banners will be placed along Schenley Drive Extension and the other three will be on Schenley Drive. 

Matviev said the library plans to change out the banners for specific events it holds.

“As you know, the library very often has special events throughout the seasons of the year,” Matviev said. “And so they have a full time staff of graphic artists who will be designing the banners and the banners are, all their graphics are always composed to reflect diversity and also, of course, to be artistically engaging.”

Matviev said, as per the recommendation of the City’s Art Commission, the banners will be two feet tall by six feet wide. He said the team is working on getting temporary approval to get the project started while waiting for permanent approval.

Ron Graziano, the library’s director of facilities development, said the main event the banners will display images for is the library’s 125th anniversary.

“Originally, these signs were intended to be put up a year ago,” Graziano said. “We were hoping to have these up November 5th of 2020, to celebrate the entire 125th anniversary from November 5th of 2020 untill November 5th of 2021. With COVID, and that corridor basically shut down with pedestrians, our events have been truncated for quite some time and we’re still going to do something in November, but not as grandiose as what we were planning.”

Graziano said the library will get an annual permit for the installation of the posts and banners, which will cost around $9,000 and be paid for through grants received for the anniversary celebration. 

Graziano said other events that will be advertised on the banners include Love Your Library Month and Summer Reading Extravaganza.

After the presentations, Wanda Wilson, executive director of OPDC, discussed possible zoning changes in Oakland. OPDC previously discussed private developer Walnut Capital’s current efforts to pass a proposal to reshape vast parts of Central Oakland, which several community members and OPDC leaders criticized.

The plan would change zoning rules for a dense, 17-acre area of Central Oakland along parts of Halket Street, McKee Place and the Boulevard of the Allies. Walnut Capital plans to build a variety of mixed-use buildings between six to ten stories, Wilson said previously.

Wilson said OPDC is an affordable housing developer, and noticed how Walnut Capital did not include affordable housing initiatives like inclusionary zoning — a mechanism that incentivizes or requires developers to include affordable housing units in a development — in its plan. 

“The zoning proposal and any of the plans that you might hope for currently by Walnut Capital include none of these high priorities for the Oakland community,” Wilson said. 

Wilson said an ordinance written by Walnut Capital’s attorney and presented to the City Council does not contain any initiatives to protect lower-density housing from higher-density developments. 

“Again, it was not written by anybody, any public servant,” Wilson said. “Or, you know, it was written by a private development entity with their own, you know, presumably their own interests in mind, you know, their own monetary gain, so you can really tell the difference.”

Elaina Zaitsoff, an Oakland resident, asked why there wasn’t anything put in place to protect against the zoning changes Walnut Capital proposes, such as an interim planning overlay district. Wilson did not specifically say why an IPOD — which temporarily controls zoning while changes are planned  — was not used in the planning process for this zoning change, but said residents were initially in support of it. 

“And unfortunately, that wasn’t put in place by city planning,” Wilson said. “And, you know, we can really see a reason why we do need that, you know, we do need to go through the process as a community of the planning effort, really identify the vision and where we’re zoning, we’d like to see zoning changed.”