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Pittsburgh Planning Commission rejects controversial Penn Plaza development

Bob Bauder
| Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017, 5:21 p.m.
Large bands of concrete that emphasize the floors of the Penn Plaza apartments in East Liberty on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016.
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Large bands of concrete that emphasize the floors of the Penn Plaza apartments in East Liberty on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016.

Citing community opposition, the Pittsburgh Planning Commission on Tuesday unanimously rejected a Downtown developer's plans to build high-end housing on the site of a shuttered low-income complex in East Liberty.

“It begins with and ends with the community engagement piece, and at the end of the day I don't believe that there was any evidence that ... the community gave input, and there weren't things that were truly changed as a result of that,” Commissioner Lashawn Burton-Faulk said.

Plans by Pennley Park South, a subsidiary of Downtown-based LG Realty Advisors Inc., which owns the Penn Plaza complex, are now in limbo, according to Downtown attorney Jonathan Kamin, who represents the company. One of the two buildings in the complex was razed last year. The now-vacant property on Penn Avenue is surrounded by a fence.

Kamin called the decision unfair, saying the plan complies with city requirements.

“In terms of public engagement, I think more than 35 meetings with the various constituencies and groups is public engagement like the city has never had,” he said. “I don't think that you can ask for more public engagement than what this developer has done on many different levels from the very beginning of the process.”

He said options are to submit another plan or sue.

The company founded by Lawrence N. Gumberg, a member of a family that owns commercial real estate firm J.J. Gumberg Co., intended to replace Penn Plaza with a market rate residential and retail development including a Whole Foods grocery store.

The development has been controversial since last year, when Pennley Park sent notices to about 200 residents of Penn Plaza that they had 90 days to find other housing. Residents complained that the development would encroach on a 2.2-acre park next to Penn Plaza.

Pennley Park offered relocation assistance to residents and joined the city in helping them find other housing. About 27 people remain in the last building. Residents attending the meeting praised the decision.

“I feel good about it on many levels as an extremely low-income resident of the community who has been displaced,” said Alethea Sims, 61, of East Liberty. “I'm relieved that someone Downtown is finally listening.”

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

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