It was standing room only at the Jewish Community Center in Squirrel Hill on July 24 for the first public meeting about 5800 Forward Avenue, a proposed mixed-use development at the corner of Murray and Forward Avenues. The main concerns? Adding more traffic to the busy five-way intersection and changing the look of the neighborhood.
The proposed project has nine-plus stories with 44 studio, 52 one-bedroom and 29 two-bedroom market rate apartments, as well as 135 parking spaces, including bicycle and ADA parking. Three retail spaces are planned for the ground floor and one on the first floor.
The developer, Herky Pollock of CBRE, a lifelong resident of Squirrel Hill, sees an opportunity to improve a blighted corner of his neighborhood that will stimulate economic growth in the southern part of Squirrel Hill. “I have tried to include the heart and soul of what the neighborhood needs,” he said.
“They are hoping to appeal to first-time renters or empty nesters looking to downsize,” said architect Loren Wright of Pieper O’Brien Herr Architects. The expectation is that many residents will be transit or bicycle users who don’t own cars.
To accommodate increased pedestrian traffic, the design offers a wider sidewalk with a dedicated bus stop. The parking is accessed only on Forward Avenue, and plans call for re-establishing Maeburn Road, which winds behind the building, for most exiting traffic. They have added loading zone and drop-off areas, and cars will only be able to turn right into or out of the Forward Avenue entrance.
Some pointed out that cars will turn left out of the garage if they are able to, which could be dangerous and block traffic heading into Squirrel Hill or down to the Parkway East.
The building scale was a concern as well. The current design extends two stories above the neighboring Action Housing apartment building and it has a distinctive façade. The architect’s project manager, Scott Maritzer, explained that while it seems tall, is not in perspective with the “bowl” of the terrain.
“When approaching the site, it should announce that you are entering Squirrel Hill,” said Wright.
The design team will continue meeting with SHUC to continue the development. They’ve collected comments from the Contextual Design Advisory Panel (CDAP) and from community sessions and will consider them all.
“There’s still time” to refine the design, noted Lori Fitzgerald, with SHUC. “Everything’s not set in stone. It was clear from the large crowd that neighbors are interested in something happening there.” Her concern is how to fine-tune the project to make it safe for vehicles and pedestrians.
The SHUC Board has not taken a formal position on this project. Their all-volunteer group, which includes design professionals, will remain independent and will respond to the community’s concerns.
The project is currently seeking set-back and height variance from the Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA); the hearing date, which is open to the public, is scheduled for 9:10 a.m. on September 28.