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Brookline residents raise concerns about Mt. Lebanon housing development plans

| Wednesday, April 23, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Developers who want to build apartments for seniors and 60 townhouses at the former DePaul Institute/Bradley Center in Mt. Lebanon are getting mixed results as they try to address neighbors' fears.

Downtown-based Oxford Development Co. proposed a 60-unit, affordable-rate apartment complex for senior citizens on the hillside above McNeilly Road, and Bellevue-based Green Development plans 60 townhouses that would be for sale on part of the site closer to Dorchester Avenue.

In order to build “independent living” apartments taller than two stories, and to comply with Mt. Lebanon's comprehensive plan, Oxford project manager Ben Kelley told people at an informational meeting on Monday that the developers want to change the 8-acre parcel's zoning from low-density residential to a high-density category.

Many residents from nearby Brookline say the development wouldn't fit with their neighborhood of mostly single-family homes, and they worry it could bring traffic and crime.

“We like our quality of life that exists in our neighborhood and are very happy with our low-density area,” said Angela Gaito-Lagnese. “We hope we can come up with a compromise that everyone can live with, not just now but 30 to 40 years from now.”

Brookline residents have attended Mt. Lebanon commissioners' meetings to voice concerns. The board postponed a vote on the rezoning and asked the developers to hold Monday's meeting in the Church of the Advent in Brookline.

“The building might be fine but what about the people in it?” said Brookline resident Doris Munnelly, who said she has seen other subsidized senior housing complexes overwhelmed by residents letting in friends and relatives, bringing drugs and crime with them.

Kelley said his portion of the project would be financed through the state's Low Income Housing Tax Program, where projects compete for federal income tax credits, which developers then sell to banks.

The banks get the tax credits in exchange for financing the complexes, which then charge below-market rate rents to senior citizens who meet income and other requirements.

Kelley said if the development is mismanaged and someone other than qualified tenants are allowed in, the developer and the banks risk losing their tax credits. Oxford hasn't settled on who would run the building, but it likely would be the Allegheny County Housing Authority, he said.

Ernie Sota of Green Development said his portion of the project would be only slightly higher-density than some nearby blocks, and construction could break into phases if units don't sell as he anticipates, at about $300,000 to $400,000.

“We want this to remain low-density. There's single-family homes in all directions around it,” said resident Diane Samstag.

Kelley said a traffic study will help answer questions such as where an access road will connect with Dorchester, or whether developers will pay to install turning lanes or traffic lights.

The rezoning is tentatively scheduled for a vote on April 28 in the Mt. Lebanon commission's 8 p.m. meeting.

Matthew Santoni is a Trib Total Media staff writer.

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