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Housing planned for 'gateway' property

| Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012, 8:54 p.m.

The owners of a long-vacant parcel at the “gateway” to Mt. Lebanon's main business district now want to build townhouses and condominiums on the site.

Downtown-based Zamagias Properties has owned a large lot at the corner of Washington and Bower Hill roads since 2007. The company initially proposed two towers of luxury condominiums and got tax-backed loans to finance part of the land acquisition, but that project fell through amid the economic downturn in 2008.

At the Mt. Lebanon commission meeting on Tuesday, Zamagias Chief Operating Officer David Martens and architect Daniel Rothschild of Strip District-based Rothschild Doyno Collaborative outlined their latest plans for the corner. Rothschild said it could feature “landmark” buildings befitting the northern gateway to Mt. Lebanon's Uptown business district.

“The idea would be to try and give that corner the civic importance that this (municipal building) gives the other end,” Rothschild said.

Next to single-floor condos and underground parking on the corner of the lot would be a row of brownstone-style townhouses along Washington Road.

The housing would be broken up by two small public plazas across Washington Road from St. Bernard Parish and the entrance to Pamela's P&G Diner.

Another multifamily building would go on Bower Hill across from existing apartment buildings. On the Kenmont Avenue side would be several smaller, single-family homes to fit in with the houses on that street, Rothschild said.

Martens said the development's 30 units would be priced from the high $200,000s to the high $300,000s.

“We have several more months of feasibility (studies) to get through before we determine whether this project will move forward,” he said.

A decision could be made late in the first quarter of 2013, company officials said.

After the luxury condo development collapsed, the company rejected other concepts for the site, including offices, retail and senior housing, Martens said. Meanwhile, neighbors grew impatient with the vacant property that was growing weeds and attracting crime.

“While we're excited to hear talk about the future, with all due respect, we live in the present, and what's there now could be made safer and more inviting,” said the Rev. David Bonnar, who lives at St. Bernard.

Bonnar presented a petition from neighbors urging Mt. Lebanon to further inspect the property and, if Zamagias doesn't make progress on developing it, exercise a “buyback” provision on part of the land the municipal parking authority sold the developers.

Martens would not comment on tax-increment financing loans the company received for its original project, which would have used most of the property tax revenue the project generated to repay loans taken out for planning and land acquisition.

Unless Zamagias fronts the money to repay the loans by Jan. 1, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Financing Authority could be left paying the $1.78 million, though Zamagias would keep the property. Martens would not say whether the company would seek TIF money for the newest version of the project.

Matthew Santoni is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5625 or msantoni@tribweb.com.

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