Proposed high-rise apartment building prompts mixed reaction in Shadyside

PITTSBURGH — A proposed high-rise apartment building has some Shadyside neighbors up in arms, while others are praising the plan.

Channel 11 first told you about the proposal in March.

RELATED COVERAGE: Residents in Pittsburgh’s Shadyside neighborhood concerned over proposed high-rise apartment complex

Mozart Management wants to tear down two Victorian homes it currently uses as rental properties at the corner of South Aiken Avenue and Claybourne Street, and instead build a multilevel structure.

During a hearing before the Zoning Board of Adjustment on Thursday, the development team presented revisions that it claimed were made in response to community feedback. For instance, the size of the proposed building has been reduced from 12 stories to 10. It would include 117 apartment units and 82 parking spaces — some internal and some external. Ten percent of the apartment units would serve as affordable housing.

David Gefsky, part of the development team, told the board that they have received “an overwhelming message” from the community that plans for the building should move forward. “The community recognizes the urgency to create quality, mixed-income housing.”

But, not all residents are on board.

“It would just be the ruin of the neighborhood,” said Shadyside resident Virginia Flaherty. “Shadyside is maxed out. We don’t like living on top of each other anymore. We’ve sacrificed enough.”

Flaherty and a handful of other Shadyside residents spoke with Channel 11 following Thursday’s meeting. They have a number of concerns, including parking problems, overall vehicular congestion, view obstruction, density, and more.

“The area is getting so overdeveloped, that we’re losing our basic rights of being able to live in a neighborhood,” said Victoria Toner. “It’s eliminating the whole fabric of a neighborhood. We need to have something that’s more compatible and yet useful and beneficial to the whole community.”

Some residents take issue with the legal exceptions Mozart is requesting from the zoning board, which can be read here as “variances.”

“We’re not telling them, necessarily, ‘don’t build.’ But, ‘build to code,’” said Pam D’Alessandro. “It should be residential. We’re looking for residential compatibility and we don’t feel that building fits that model.”

Others, however, are in favor of the proposal, especially after Mozart made adjustments.

Supporters and opponents both spoke following the presentation to the board on Thursday.

“In our view, the city of Pittsburgh and, in particular, Shadyside, needs more modern housing solutions to maintain competitiveness and relevance, and this proposal satisfies that objective,” said resident Daniel Scharrschmidt. He further praised the development team for being “engaging and transparent” with community members.

Another city resident, who lives in Squirrel Hill, told the board “it’s hard to imagine a better place for more housing. This location is perfectly situated for growth.”

The revised proposal also has the support of Councilwoman Erika Strassburger, whose chief of staff read a letter of support on behalf of Strassburger.

The letter called the plan “beneficial” and said that the building size reduction will lessen the impact on the existing environment.

The letter further read: “We need to build more green and accessible housing near transit and job centers if we want to seize our opportunity to be a city of the future. I believe this complex will advance that mission with minor disruptions to the surrounding streets.”

But to some neighbors, preserving Shadyside’s history is paramount, and they fear the construction will jeopardize the neighborhood’s charm.

“We’re no longer a historical, mixed-use, pretty neighborhood with nice Victorian homes,” Flaherty said. “We’re just turning into all high-rise apartment buildings. We have to start to slow down.”

Board members did not take action during Thursday’s meeting, as they await the completion of transcripts. In the meantime, the board will continue taking written submissions from community members and stakeholders, before beginning deliberations and issuing a decision.

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