After five years of waiting, Mount Washington residents recently saw signs of life on a long-anticipated "One Grandview" development project slated for Grandview Avenue. But the news wasn't what they expected.
Instead of a planned five-star hotel, the site's developers — Sycamore Grandview Development — now plan to build a 300-unit apartment complex. For some residents, the change is less than ideal; the project was not what residents were originally told to expect. And the new development has also seen several delays since it was announced last fall.
"The community is very disappointed in this developer," says Sandra Fundy, a leader of Protect Mount Washington, a group of 90 individuals formed in October to combat changes to the One Grandview plan. "Residents are tired of all these developers who come here making promises and then do nothing."
The original proposal, designed by architects at Desmone & Associates, included a 110-room hotel, spa and fitness center, and a fine-dining restaurant. The project also featured a 55-unit condominium development and expansion of the Grandview promenade, a major attraction for sightseers.
The latest proposal, however, calls for three to four buildings of apartments, parking spaces for 500 cars, and a restaurant. Opponents worry the new project will drastically increase traffic. They would rather have a development that creates more jobs and is open to the community.
However, Sycamore Grandview says the original plan for a hotel is no longer financially feasible. That $100 million project was approved by the city planning commission in 2010, but architect Luke Desmone says funding quickly fell through.
"When [the hotel] was proposed, it was felt that the climate was right for that, but as it turned out, the banks were not interested in loaning money for a five-star hotel in Pittsburgh," Desmone explains.
When One Grandview's developers met with the community in September, they said they'd be presenting their new proposal to the city planning commission in October. That hearing — along with subsequent hearings scheduled for November and December and most recently, Jan. 7 — was canceled.
Sycamore Grandview says its plan isn't quite ready to present. Residents unhappy with the new proposal are split on what to do next: Should they fight the new development when it's finally presented to city planning, or support it?
Some feel any development is better than none at all. Others want to hold out for the original hotel proposal.
"A small number of residents are tired and they want something, anything there," Fundy says. "But the residents who are invested in the community would rather have nothing than something that will destroy our sense of community.
"All this 300 market-rate rental [units] would bring is over-crowded streets. ... No spa, no promenade, nothing for the community."
Troubles for the vacant site on Mount Washington's iconic Grandview Avenue date back to 1979, when the Edge Restaurant closed down. For the next three decades, the property was vacant, until the structure was demolished by Sycamore Grandview in 2011 to make room for the new development.
"I would like the project to move forward," says William Reilly, a Mount Washington resident. "I'm tired of all the empty lots and every project getting so much negative publicity and stifling development. I'm for the apartment project. That parcel has been an eyesore for 30 years; it's time to build."
Desmone agrees. He says he'd be happy to move forward with the hotel if a bank stepped forward to fund the $100 million project, but he doesn't see it happening any time soon.
"An unfunded project is of no value to anyone," Desmone says.
Sycamore Grandview says it will to update the community in March. The revised plan will have to be approved by city planning, but doesn't have to be approved by Pittsburgh City Council, because the panel already approved the zoning variance for the original project. Still, having support from council can't hurt.
"I share the disappointment of the residents and, frankly, that of the developer, as well," says City Councilor Theresa Kail-Smith, who represents Mount Washington. "However, we will continue to work through some of the concerns while securing the best possible development for the area."