Mt. Washington's Grandview Avenue isn't looking so great these days

Aaron Aupperlee
| Monday, May 20, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Siding falls off the side of a restaurant. A sidewalk crumbles. Lots sit vacant, with weeds and scattered debris.

This is what Jim Hughes sees when he leaves his Trimont condo on Mt. Washington. This is what Hughes fears tourists see when they walk along Grandview Avenue.

“I don't know whether to describe it as a slum, or what. There are derelict buildings. There are crumbling sidewalks,” said Hughes, a Pittsburgher his whole life who moved to Mt. Washington 13 years ago. “This is embarrassing, some of the things up here on this street, embarrassing.”

Though much of Grandview offers magnificent vistas of Downtown's skyscrapers, the North Shore's stadiums and the city's three rivers, blight stands out along the road that has posh and polished buildings.

City building inspectors on Friday visited two vacant lots owned by Craig Cozza, president of Cozza Enterprises, and intend to send notices of code violations on Monday, said Wayne Bossinger, field operations manager for the Pittsburgh Bureau of Building Inspection. The lots have overgrown vegetation and debris; fences, once temporary, need permits. The lot at Bertha Street has a crumbling sidewalk. The lot at Sweetbriar Avenue has a dangerous retaining wall.

“One, they call the hole. One, they call the hump,” Bossinger said. “They're just eyesores. He doesn't maintain them until he gets a letter from us.”

Cozza said his company does regular maintenance on the properties and worked with city inspectors to address code issues. He said the retaining wall on Sweetbriar was inspected a year ago and was deemed safe.

When Cozza bought the lots and cleared them, he wanted to build condos. That was eight to 10 years ago. Opposition from some residents, legal battles and a bad economy delayed the projects and forced Cozza to consider different approaches.

“We're going to have some things happening here pretty soon,” Cozza said. “It was not our intent to have those lots sitting there and in disrepair.”

Mary Beth Jackson lives on Augusta Street, across from “the hole,” Cozza's vacant lot at Sweetbriar. She grew up on Augusta Street and said several houses once stood where a pit sits. She does not want another high-rise condo building blocking her view. She would like a pool or a park.

“I'm tired of looking at it,” she said. “He probably wants to do more than plant grass.”

Jason Kambitsis, executive director of Mt. Washington Community Development Corp., speaks often with Cozza and owners of other vacant properties.

“Ultimately, in the end, there probably shouldn't be one vacant property on Grandview Avenue,” said Kambitsis. “These things are not just sitting there because the property owners don't want things to happen. They are all actively moving towards doing something.

“I think that there's movement. I think there is new blood.”

The Cliffside Restaurant, sandwiched between The Coal Hill Steakhouse and Bella Vista Ristorante Italiano, closed years ago and fell into disrepair. Ed Dunlap, chairman and CEO of Centimark Corp. and owner of The Le-Mont, bought the vacant Cliffside in 2005. He considered turning it into apartments, a collection of restaurants and a small hotel.

“One way or another, we're going to do something this year,” Dunlap said, acknowledging that the building, with siding falling off and a gutted interior, does not look good.

The cement slabs of a sidewalk along Ponka Way, less than a block off Grandview, have crumbled. Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith, who represents Mt. Washington, said the city budgeted $1 million for improvements along Grandview Avenue and streets behind it.

Hughes hopes the dilapidated buildings and vacant lots turn around soon. He worries a tourist will visit Mt. Washington and overlook the beautiful view.

“People come up here to see Pittsburgh,” he said.

Aaron Aupperlee is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7986.

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