ShareThis Page

Vote delayed on controversial high-end housing in East Liberty

| Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016, 7:18 p.m.
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
The Penn Plaza apartments in East Liberty on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016.

Scores of Pittsburghers urged the city Planning Commission on Tuesday to reject, or at least delay, a Downtown real estate firm's plans to build high-end housing on the site of a shuttered low-income apartment complex in East Liberty, attacking the project as gentrification.

“Redevelopment in the (1960s) took years, and there were a lot of mistakes made,” said Sallyann Kluz of East Liberty. “Please give us the time so we don't make them again.”

Not everyone at the commission's meeting was critical of the project on the site of the former Penn Plaza Apartments on Penn Avenue. The project is displacing more than 200 residents.

“We've seen our community become gentrified,” said the Rev. Darryl T. Canady, senior pastor of the Rodman Street Missionary Baptist Church in East Liberty. “We think this project will help us recoup some of the affordable housing we've lost.”

Commission members postponed a vote until January on preliminary development plans presented by Pennley Park South, a subsidiary of Downtown-based LG Realty Advisors Inc., which owns Penn Plaza. The company was founded by Lawrence N. Gumberg, a member of the family that runs commercial real estate firm J.J. Gumberg Co.

LG Realty intends to replace the two-building complex with a market rate residential and retail development, including a Whole Foods grocery store. It has demolished one of the two buildings with plans to demolish the second in 2017.

“I know it's not profitable for this kind of housing now, but someone somewhere has to put people above profits,” said Alethea Sims, who heads the Coalition of Organized Residents of East Liberty.

The development has been controversial since last year when Pennley Park sent notices to residents of Penn Plaza that they had 90 days to find other housing. Residents also complained that the development was encroaching on a popular 2.2 acre park next to Penn Plaza.

Mayor Bill Peduto's office stepped in and negotiated a deal, in which residents received relocation assistance from Pennley Park and help finding alternative housing. The company also promised to preserve the park. The city agreed to earmark increased tax revenue from the increased value of the property for a fund used to create affordable housing.

Downtown attorney Jonathan Kamin estimated the tax plan would generate $10 million to $12 million over 10 years.

“Since this was signed in 2015 everyone has lived up to their commitments,” Kamin said of the deal.

Residents complained they are running out of choices in Pittsburgh for affordable housing and that Pennley Park has not hosted community forums as required by the city to inform them of project plans.

Kamin said the company has fulfilled all of its obligations.

Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-765-2312 or bbauder@tribweb.com.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.