City Council Approves Rules for Lower Hill Redevelopment

Jan 28, 2015

Construction of the old Civic Arena in the Lower Hill District displaced 8,000 residents, most of whom were African American and/or low income. Redevelopment plans include mixed-income housing.
Credit Joseph Novak / Flickr

Redevelopment of Pittsburgh’s lower Hill District is one step closer to becoming a reality, with City Council on Wednesday giving preliminary approval to a bill designating the area as a Specially Planned District or SPD.

“It took a while to get here … and now we’ve got to actually begin building,” said Councilman Daniel Lavelle, who represents the Hill District.

The legislation spells out details about what kinds of businesses can occupy storefronts, allowable building heights, and the specific bounds of the district, among other considerations.

The bill divides the SPD into three sub-districts.

Sub-district 1 runs most of the length of Crawford Street and extends about 400 feet to the southwest toward Washington Place. This 300,000 square foot area can include residential units, child care facilities, a community center, parks and recreational activities, banks, grocery stores, laundry services, health care facilities, offices, restaurants, retail sales, and parking structures.

Sub-district 2 is bounded by Bedford Ave. on the north, Washington Place on the west, and Centre Ave. on the south, while sub-district 3 is essentially the current site of Consol Energy Center.

As specified in the legislation, these sub-districts will be subject to the same use requirements as the downtown Golden Triangle district. This means the area could potentially be home to a wide variety of businesses and other organizations, including but not limited to those listed above.

Councilman Daniel Lavelle on Wednesday introduced several amendments to the legislation, including specifications about businesses permitted to occupy ground floor office space.

“If you’re on the first floor of the office building, and you have an office space, you have to have office hours … basically allowing people to come in and out, so you’re activating the ground floor,” Lavelle said.

Lavelle said such a requirement is meant to “activate” the ground floor of office buildings, to create a vibrant urban atmosphere. Tenants could include spas or fitness centers, restaurants, retail sales, and health care facilities, among others.

The bill also allows for on-site energy generation, as long as the infrastructure necessary can be wholly housed within a building or on a rooftop, such as solar and wind energy generation.

Lavelle also struck from the legislation a provision that would have allowed LEED certified buildings to exceed the maximum building heights specified for particular areas in each sub-district. Maximum building heights range from 50 feet to 700 feet, depending on the location.

Members of council gave enthusiastic preliminary approval to the plan, thanking Councilman Lavelle for bringing community groups together with developers and other stakeholders, such as the Pittsburgh Penguins and U.S. Steel.

Councilman Ricky Burgess said the process can serve as a model for future neighborhood revitalization projects throughout the city, in communities such as Larimer and Homewood.

“I think we are, over the last couple of years, being able to really zero in on a process that we can replicate in community after community after community that gives them the best opportunity to do development,” Burgess said.