Summerset builds up slowly

| Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Nearly a decade has passed since Summerset at Frick Park was launched as Pittsburgh's largest housing development in decades, but the goal of building 713 housing units within 10 years is now a memory.

There is no lottery to award homes to the first, eager buyers as in the early years, when more than 700 signed up to buy a home in the 238-acre development on a former slag dump between Squirrel Hill and Swisshelm Park.

"Perhaps it was unrealistic to believe Summerset could be completed in 10 years because, as you get into the development, you find it takes three to four years to get the site ready for construction," said S. Murray Rust III, a partner in Montgomery & Rust Inc., one of the initial and present builders.

After the initial lottery selection of buyers, it took a year to obtain all the necessary permits to begin construction, Rust said. Some of those selected could not wait, decided to buy elsewhere or just dropped out for another reason.

Rust, however, said he still is optimistic about the popularity of Summerset for home buyers -- having recently purchased a home there himself.

"Our sales center has a list of several hundred individuals and families interested in buying a home. No lottery is planned. Sales will be on a first-come, first-served basis," he said.

Just two lots remain from Phase One of the project. The Pittsburgh Urban Redevelopment Authority, owner of the site, late last month authorized a new phase of up to 132 rental units, 126 for-sale houses, plus a 30,000-square-foot building.

Ralph Falbo of Ralph Falbo Inc., Downtown, who with Philadelphia-based Pennrose Properties Inc. built the initial rental units, said he is prepared to build the new rentals. Falbo also built the 36-unit Crescent Court condominium there, which has only one unit unsold.

Since 2001, when the first house was built, 256 units have been built, sold or occupied. The eventual goal calls for 336 single-family, 121 townhouses and 256 rental units.

Buyers such as Erin and Susan McKinley have found Summerset the right place to relocate from their former home in Oil City.

"We're retired and decided we wanted to move from a rural setting to an urban one -- where we often went for entertainment, sports and visiting family and friends," said Erin, 60, who served as a physician in DuBois.

They selected a two-story, single-family house that fits their needs and provides them with maintenance-free living. They moved in last September and said they enjoy living there.

"Whenever a small household item pops up that needs taken care of, the builder -- Montgomery & Rust -- makes the correction or repair," Erin said.

"The 10-year period was a projected number -- not a definite time period," said Robert Rubenstein, URA's director of economic development.

A third and final phase, involving nearly 100 units, would be concentrated closer to Swisshelm Park, he said. It is still in the planning stage, with no timetable.

Summerset has generated new tax revenues for the city, the school district and the county. The development also has attracted residents to the city who otherwise might not have moved here, he said. And, more important, it gave city residents an opportunity to own a new large and energy-efficient home instead of going to the suburbs.

URA approved a $2 million loan agreement with the developer toward the $24.3 million cost of grading for construction of streets, parks, rights-of-way and private alleys in the new phase.

"That is the focus of our current effort at Summerset -- to arrange the private financial package to move ahead with the infrastructure," said Craig Dunham, managing general partner of Summerset Development Associates and a principal of the Rubinoff Co. That financing could be arranged this month, he added.

Dunham said an average of two to three houses are sold each month. Prices have remained relatively stable, averaging between $450,000 and $500,000, he said.

BeBe English, vice president-manager of Howard Hanna Real Estate Services' Squirrel Hill office, said during her nine years in that capacity, she has viewed Summerset as a successful development.

"When they open a new subdivision there, they eventually sell them out, and they do it in a systematic way," she said.

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