Vote delayed on controversial high-end housing in East Liberty |

Vote delayed on controversial high-end housing in East Liberty

Bob Bauder
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
The Penn Plaza apartments in East Liberty on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016.
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
The Penn Plaza apartments in East Liberty on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016.

Scores of Pittsburghers urged the city Planning Commission on Tuesday to reject, or at least delay, a Downtown real estate firm’s plans to build high-end housing on the site of a shuttered low-income apartment complex in East Liberty, attacking the project as gentrification.

“Redevelopment in the (1960s) took years, and there were a lot of mistakes made,” said Sallyann Kluz of East Liberty. “Please give us the time so we don’t make them again.”

Not everyone at the commission’s meeting was critical of the project on the site of the former Penn Plaza Apartments on Penn Avenue. The project is displacing more than 200 residents.

“We’ve seen our community become gentrified,” said the Rev. Darryl T. Canady, senior pastor of the Rodman Street Missionary Baptist Church in East Liberty. “We think this project will help us recoup some of the affordable housing we’ve lost.”

Commission members postponed a vote until January on preliminary development plans presented by Pennley Park South, a subsidiary of Downtown-based LG Realty Advisors Inc., which owns Penn Plaza. The company was founded by Lawrence N. Gumberg, a member of the family that runs commercial real estate firm J.J. Gumberg Co.

LG Realty intends to replace the two-building complex with a market rate residential and retail development, including a Whole Foods grocery store. It has demolished one of the two buildings with plans to demolish the second in 2017.

“I know it’s not profitable for this kind of housing now, but someone somewhere has to put people above profits,” said Alethea Sims, who heads the Coalition of Organized Residents of East Liberty.

The development has been controversial since last year when Pennley Park sent notices to residents of Penn Plaza that they had 90 days to find other housing. Residents also complained that the development was encroaching on a popular 2.2 acre park next to Penn Plaza.

Mayor Bill Peduto’s office stepped in and negotiated a deal, in which residents received relocation assistance from Pennley Park and help finding alternative housing. The company also promised to preserve the park. The city agreed to earmark increased tax revenue from the increased value of the property for a fund used to create affordable housing.

Downtown attorney Jonathan Kamin estimated the tax plan would generate $10 million to $12 million over 10 years.

“Since this was signed in 2015 everyone has lived up to their commitments,” Kamin said of the deal.

Residents complained they are running out of choices in Pittsburgh for affordable housing and that Pennley Park has not hosted community forums as required by the city to inform them of project plans.

Kamin said the company has fulfilled all of its obligations.

Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-765-2312 or [email protected].

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