Update 9:15 a.m.
In Upper Lawrenceville, between 55th and 56th streets on Butler, the remains of what was once a factory inhabit an entire block.
From the 1920s to the 1970s, the site was home to Hanlon-Gregory Industries, whose galvanizing plant was the largest in the world in 1942, an ad in the Pittsburgh Press from that year boasts.
For years, it was owned by ACE Auto Wrecking, according to neighborhood nonprofit Lawrenceville United. Portions of the site served as storage for movie theater equipment and office furniture while a car dealership once used a concrete lot to store vehicles.
Now, a Toronto-based developer wants to turn the 2.8-acre site into the Mews on Butler, a development of 68 townhouses that will sell in the upper $300,000, lower $400,000 range, according to current plans.
Pittsburgh City Council will hold a hearing at 1:30 p.m. today on a zoning change — from Urban Industrial to Local Neighborhood Commercial — required for the development to move forward.
Mews is a British term that can refer to homes that open to an alley or backstreet (think carriage houses and cobblestone). Craft Development Corp. has adopted the term for the proposed Butler Street site as the plan calls to build the homes perpendicular to the main road with a private street running in between 55th and 56th.
The townhouses would each have a two-car garage with green spaces that separate the home groupings. Pittsburgh-based Indovina Associates Architects created the concept designs.
Lawrenceville United co-hosted a community meeting on the plan in January. Dave Breingan, executive director of that group, said the resident feedback at those meetings informs Lawrenceville United’s priorities and actions on proposed developments.
“We are the resident voice,” he said.
Breingan said the No. 1 priority that emerged from the January meeting was “maintaining a mixed-income and diverse neighborhood.” According to minutes from that meeting, a handful of residents expressed to the developer a desire for some of the units to be affordable. Representatives from Craft didn’t commit to that request.
“There’s a lot of factors to consider,” an unnamed Craft representative said, according to the minutes. “It’s a brownfield conversion. There’s construction costs we have to think about. It’s not dead, but how you quantify affordable housing is a pretty generic question.”
Breingan said Lawrenceville United is “excited that Craft Development is committed to making some improvements to Harrison Street,” a currently unusable stretch of city road that borders a part of the project, and seems “amenable” to a storm water management plan.
But getting affordable housing into the development is the group’s biggest priority.
“We’ve stressed that from the get-go with Craft Development,” he said.
Those conversations have continued, according to Breingan, who noted that Craft Development is not an affordable housing developer. “They were open to solutions,” he said. “We are working with them around how to make it financially work for them and how to make it part of that project.”
Larry Regan of Craft Development told The Incline it’s too early in the process to say if affordable housing will be part of the plan. “There are a lot of steps to go through in developing this property,” he said. “It’s really early on.”
Regan said Craft was drawn to Pittsburgh, which he described as like “a smaller version of Toronto,” because of the “gentrification, the growth [and] the tech.”
Groups like Lawrenceville United are limited in what they can actually require a private developer to do. When a project reaches the Zoning Board, the nonprofit can either support it, oppose it or support with conditions.
“That gives us a little leverage,” he said.
Lawrenceville United supports mandatory inclusionary zoning for the neighborhood, Breingan said, which would require developers that get city assistance like a zoning variance to make a certain percentage of the units they build affordable. It’s an idea backed by Councilwoman Deb Gross, whose district includes Lawrenceville and other rapidly developing areas like the Strip District.
In its current form, the Mews on Butler wouldn’t help alleviate the affordable housing pinch being felt in the increasingly expensive Lawrenceville. But it would provide for another need: space for families.
“It is different than a lot of other big projects that we’re seeing,” Breingan said, as the homes will be for sale not for rent. The townhouses are also larger than new apartment developments, with three or four bedrooms.
“People are excited to see more housing that’s geared more for families, because we care about that in Lawrenceville,” he said. “We do want to be a neighborhood where people can raise kids.”