Penn Plaza tenant group calls on city officials to reject proposed East Liberty development | Pittsburgh City Paper

Penn Plaza tenant group calls on city officials to reject proposed East Liberty development

Penn Plaza tenant group calls on city officials to reject proposed East Liberty development
CP photo by Aaron Warnick
Penn Plaza apartment complex before it was torn down
In summer of 2015, when property-development company LG Realty announced evictions of East Liberty’s Penn Plaza apartment complex, hundreds of residents were blindsided. After months-long negotiations, LG was allowed to move forward redeveloping the Penn Plaza property, in exchange for move-out costs for the tenants and money for Pittsburgh's affordable-housing fund.

However, the vast majority of Penn Plaza residents couldn’t find similar rents in East Liberty and were eventually forced to leave the neighborhood. Penn Plaza was torn down in 2017.

On March 14, the Pittsburgh city-planning department accepted LG's latest application for their redevelopment plan for the Penn Plaza site, which proposes the construction of office and retail spaces, as well as a parking lot. The Pittsburgh Planning Commission still has to vote on the proposal.

But the activist group that formed of former Penn Plaza tenants says the new plan doesn’t address issues that led to Penn Plaza tenants being forced from East Liberty in the first place. Penn Plaza Support and Action Coalition (PPSA) is calling on Pittsburgh’s Planning Commission to reject LG’s redevelopment plan since it doesn't include housing.

“We need housing in this city,” says Randall Taylor of PPSA. “We certainly know that East Liberty already has problems with vacant retail and offices. There is some need for some different development in East Liberty.”

Housing was initially proposed for the former Penn Plaza site in a plan that included a Whole Foods grocery store. That plan called for high-end apartments, but was abandoned when Whole Foods pulled out. Taylor says that plan was also flawed, citing the recent studies showing Pittsburgh has an over-supply of high-end apartments.

Taylor says he wished PPSA and other community advocates had more of a say in LG’s plans and meetings with Pittsburgh officials. He says the area is still in need of additional moderately-priced and subsidized apartment units.

Taylor is hoping to persuade the Planning Commission to reject LG’s latest proposal, so that PPSA has a chance to convince LG to consider affordable housing as part of their development. On March 14, WESA reported the new LG development will generate about $2 million for an affordable-housing project within a mile radius of the Penn Plaza site. However, an affordable-housing project could easily be outside of East Liberty, since the neighborhood is about half of a square mile in size.

“Penn Plaza residents are calling on the Mayor and the Pittsburgh Planning Commission to support a site plan for the former Penn Plaza Apartments that truly benefits the whole community,” reads a PPSA press release.

Pittsburgh city-planning department is hosting community meetings and will take input from residents about the proposed East Liberty development on March 21 and April 16. Meetings are at  6 p.m. at the Eastminster Church, 250 N. Highland Ave., East Liberty.

Editor's note: Article originally erroneously stated that Pittsburgh's city-planning department approved LG's proposal. When if fact, the city merely accepted LG's application. The application still must be approved by the Pittsburgh Planning Commission.