OPDC responds to PublicSource Bates Street development article

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The August 10th Public Source article, A developer has big plans for Oakland’s Bates Street corridor, but will zoning laws and residents permit it?, was unbalanced and missed the mark on many points. OPDC offers the following clarifying statements. Contact OPDC at 412.621.7863 ext. 15 or wwilson@opdc.org for more information.

The enormous scale of Oakland Gateway Ventures’ (OGV) current proposal is completely inconsistent with existing zoning. 

PublicSource was incorrect to state that the proposed parking garage is “not recommended” in the H, Hillside zoning district.  In fact, the use is not permitted.  Period.  The article erred by stating allowable height is 85 feet in the Oakland Public Realm Subdistrict D zoning district.  Base zoning allows 60 feet.  85 feet would require a special exception requiring certain conditions to be met.  The article also neglected to mention the many other zoning requirements that would need to be met such as floor-area-ratio, residential compatibility standards, and site development standards.  OGV’s proposal is not realistic in terms of the City of Pittsburgh Zoning Code. OPDC engages many developers in design review—this is a large part of our work. Most developers take zoning and community support very seriously as part of their due diligence.

The OGV proposal is inconsistent with The Oakland 2025 Master Plan, and transportation/sustainability plans/policies citywide, such as P4, The Pittsburgh 2030 District, OnePGH, and City of Pittsburgh Complete Streets Policy

These are intended to support neighborhoods, reduce carbon emissions, improve air quality, increase transit ridership, and reduce the number of cars entering Oakland each day.  Existing policy is designed to prohibit developments exactly like the OGV proposal. The Public Source article did not adequately communicate the extent to which the OGV proposal is in contradiction to publicly-established priorities for the neighborhood and our city.    

PublicSource also neglected to explore the feasibility of the proposed infrastructure changes.  They simply published a drawing without interviewing another party about whether it is realistic.  The drawing showing Bates Street straightened would require blasting through a hillside next to homes where Oakland homeowners live.  The amount of blasting and hillside stabilization that would be required would be a monumental challenge from an environmental impact review perspective and also a colossal cost of public infrastructure dollars.  Lower Bates Street has congestion challenges, but the OGV proposal is not a feasible or desirable solution.  OGV has no expertise in infrastructure planning.  OPDC will work with city and state officials – those without a profit motive -- on viable plans to improve this corridor.  We will ensure that the community is involved through transparent community process. 

OPDC remains strongly opposed to this proposal. It would harm the neighborhood.

In the last week, residents have alerted us that that a representative of the OGV development team is going door-to-door requesting signatures on a petition in support of the project. This representative allegedly claims that OPDC has signed the petition and decided to support the project. This is false. OPDC and Coalition of Oakland Residents, an alliance of Oakland residential neighborhood associations, has made clear to OGV our position.  OPDC will convene a community process to review revised proposals once they incorporate the feedback already provided by the community. OGV has made no attempt to develop a proposal that is consistent with community feedback, The Oakland 2025 Master Plan, or the city’s zoning code. Instead of incorporating community feedback to present a proposal consistent with zoning, they have done the opposite by increasing the scale of the project.

There is no official proposal before any city office.

The developer has floated a lot of grandiose ideas to many organizations and public agencies, but has no support from any government decision makers that OPDC is aware of, despite the materials OGV has created that imply otherwise. The minutes from a public meeting convened by State Representative Jake Wheatley on May 2 provide details.

OPDC is not aware of any public or community support for this project, and indeed public officials and community members are on record describing OGV’s proposals as problematic and OGV’s process as misleading and disingenuous.

The City of Pittsburgh Planning Commission, Zoning Board of Adjustment, the Urban Redevelopment Authority and City Council would all play a role in approving a project of this scale. They would all require that the developer present evidence of having conducted an extensive and transparent community process that results in some form of community support for the project. The developer has not engaged in any public process since a public meeting OPDC convened in May 2014, where dozens of community members expressed unanimous opposition to the project. They have instead engaged in a smoke and mirrors game, misrepresenting conversations they’ve had with OPDC, elected officials, and other stakeholders alluding to having our support.  OGV is deliberately misleading.

Without quoting another source to OGV’s claim that there is a brokered agreement in place for the exchange of Zulema Park, Public Source allowed the reader to believe that this claim is true.

The Public Source article described developer Bill Kane as saying “the city requested the developers to give 30 to 40 feet of their property to alleviate a 40-year old traffic problem by widening Bates Street, adding right and left turn lanes and the Boulevard of the Allies and adding a bike lane. In exchange, OGV would get to build into Zulema Parklet that sits behind the property.” OPDC reached out to the City of Pittsburgh for comment, and Derek Dauphin, Senior Planner for the Department of City Planning responded via email: “Planning did not request or agree to the solution quoted from the Public Source article regarding Bates, Boulevard of the Allies and Zulema Park.”  On February 3, 2016, OPDC hosted a public meeting, and posted the notes on our website, where public officials described processes for changes to streets, transfer of ownership of city property, and review of development projects. At this meeting, city officials denied that any agreement with OGV is in place. The community remains vigilant and will engage in the public process as needed. 

The Public Source article leaves many questions unanswered. Who are all the partners on this development team? Where is the money coming from?

According to the article, OGV has agreements for 219 properties so far – and those 219 properties are located in a neighborhood with some of the most lucrative rental properties in the city. OGV has already sunk more than $2.7 million into its acquisitions on Bates Street for 12 properties, according to public record. What lender is providing assurances to OGV that an additional $47 million could be made available for parcel acquisition alone, given the substantial obstacles and risk the project entails? Or, what property owners are agreeing to assign their parcels to OGV, and in exchange for what interest in the development? OPDC is concerned that residents and property owners are being misled by a venture that is at best extremely risky, and at worst potentially fraudulent.