Councilman, Oakland residents discuss Oakland Crossing bill amendments


Zoom screenshot

Monday’s Oakland Crossings meeting over Zoom.

By Pamela Smith, Contributing Editor

To Zoe Lardas, an Oakland resident, Walnut Capital’s Oakland Crossing development plan is not clear enough for residents of the neighborhood.

“You want permission to be allowed to do whatever you want later on, so anytime anybody asks something specific, you say, ‘Well, we don’t have plans yet,’” Lardas said, addressing a Walnut Capital representative at a public meeting on Monday. “Well, how do you expect us to agree? Just how about we give you a blank check and do what you want? And then we fight it out afterwards? To me, that’s what it’s coming down to. And I don’t understand that.”

Councilman Bruce Kraus held a public meeting over Zoom on Monday evening to discuss amendments to Council Bill 2021-1906. The bill proposes several zoning changes in the Oakland neighborhood as a part of Walnut Capital’s Oakland Crossings project, which includes plans for a grocery store, housing, retail spaces and parking in Central Oakland. During the meeting, several community members expressed concern over the bill’s impact on the former site of the restaurant Isaly’s, which is now a UPMC plastic surgery center.

Jonathan Kamin, an attorney representing Walnut Capital, said the bill would “preserve” some part of the Isaly site. This preservation includes all outward-facing walls of the building.

“The facade will be essentially protected and preserved, whether it’s on that building or on a new building, where it will be taken down, cataloged, cleaned, and then put back up again,” Kamin said. “The councilman made it very clear to us that it was important that we weren’t just talking about the street-facing facade, but we were talking about all of the sides of the building. So all four facades, and that’s included in there.”

Kraus, Council representative of the Pittsburgh district that includes Central and South Oakland, said it may be necessary to clarify the bill’s language.

“We might need to clarify that language … it might need to read ‘the outer skin of all four walls’ or something along those lines, so that it is not confused that it is only the front facing piece of it, but truly all four sides,” Kraus said.

Community members continued to express concerns about the impact of the Oakland Crossings development on Oakland residents. Millie Sass, an Oakland resident, said the project could “be very detrimental to my community” because of a possible increase in neighborhood activity.

“The potential of buildings going right close to residences,” Sass said. “… There’ll be lots of impact with lots more rubbish, lots more parking, lots more parties … I’m still a little confused, very much confused about what the lighting will look like … I don’t see anywhere that that has been explained to us.”

In response to Sass’ concern, Kraus said “each and every piece of the development will go through its own review process individually … this is just the zoning change that will permit construction.”

Oakland residents also expressed concern that Walnut Capital would sell the Oakland Crossings properties to Pitt or neighboring institutions in the future. Janice Markowitz, an Oakland resident, said she’s concerned about development being “co-opted by the surrounding institutions.”

“Once it is compromised by development, whether it’s Halket, whether it’s Juliet, whether it’s Dawson, the history is, that we cannot point to any street in Oakland or the abutting neighborhoods, once a developer steps in, that is not co-opted by the surrounding institutions,” Markowitz said. ”… I think for once, for once, in 100 years, somebody out there has to listen to the needs of the people, and that’s what I feel Oakland Planning and Development does … the elephant in Oakland hasn’t been addressed for decades upon decades.”

Kamin said Walnut Capital has no current plans to sell the Oakland Crossings development to Pitt. 

“We have every intention of owning it, keeping it, developing it, utilizing it and managing it,” Kamin said. 

According to Kamin, the Oakland Crossings project would bring several positive changes to the neighborhood, by adding more places for residents to “live, stay and enjoy.”

“One of the biggest problems with Oakland is that so many people come, but there’s nowhere for people to actually live, stay and enjoy,” Kamin said. “So there’s a lot to be said about living in Oakland and affordable living in Oakland … It’s very accretive to what it is that I think the city is trying to create a competitive and urban experience for people to be able to live, work and play in.”

The City will hold a Developmental Activities meeting on June 23 over Zoom for Oakland residents to discuss Parcel “A” of Oakland Crossings.

A previous version of the article stated Oakland Planning and Development Corp. hosted this meeting. Councilman Bruce Kraus held this meeting, and the article has been updated to reflect this. The Pitt News regrets this error.