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Buncher, Pittsburgh officials believe hurdles can be overcome in proposal for Strip District development

| Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2012, 7:29 a.m.

The Buncher Co. must overcome lawsuits, zoning problems and Pittsburgh City Council before it can advance a major development in the Strip District — hurdles the company and city officials believe they can clear.

At least 60 people attended a public hearing on Tuesday to talk about zoning for Buncher's Riverfront Landing project, which would include offices, stores and residences on 55 mostly vacant acres between 11th and 21st streets, from Smallman Street to the Allegheny River.

Thomas Balestrieri, Buncher's president and CEO, said the company is building an access road paralleling Smallman, but other work awaits zoning approval from council.

“It's at a standstill until we get through this process,” he said.

Proponents said the project would pump new life into an area that for generations has been an underutilized parking lot. The project would create jobs and housing.

Opponents cited property disputes among the Allegheny Valley Railroad, Pittsburgh Urban Redevelopment Authority and Buncher — now in court — as substantial roadblocks.

They said a lawsuit by environmental group PennFuture against the city, contending the project lacks a required stormwater management plan, is another holdup. Buncher's plan for a 70-foot buffer between the development and river isn't big enough to accommodate recreation and river life, they contend.

Pittsburgh zoning code requires at least 50 feet, and a study that cost the city and federal government $1.5 million to plan for a “green boulevard” from the Strip to Lawrenceville suggests at least 95 feet.

“They're asking for major, major changes to the way we zone the Strip,” said Councilman Patrick Dowd, who scheduled the hearing. “This is an opportunity for us to work with them collaboratively to achieve a development that is good for all of us.”

A zoning change would permit Buncher greater flexibility in developing its plan to build 11 structures and partially demolish and renovate the historic Produce Terminal on Smallman. The change would allow the company to exceed building density and height limitations, among other things.

Balestrieri said delays are part of any large development.

“I think it's a due process that we have to go through,” he said. “Most everything that has been brought up today has been brought up to us long ago and fully vetted.”

Council members and some who attended the hearing said the problems can be solved, with changes.

“In the long run we're going to develop this site. It's going to happen,” said Councilman Bill Peduto. “I want to vote for this, but I can't vote for what I have now.”

Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-765-2312 or

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