Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Port Buncher development creeping forward

Newgrounds, Alvin Hew

What a difference a month makes!

A month ago, City plans for the "Allegheny Riverfront" invited a torrent of criticism which perhaps culminated in a widely circulated and powerful editorial:

Let’s not.
That’s a useful two-word assessment of the Buncher Co.’s plan for a riverside development adjacent to the Strip District. Let’s not make $50 million in public financing assistance available for a huge private project that pays scant attention to a city-sponsored master-planning process for that area. (Tribune Review)

Who knows what has changed since that time?

Perhaps the prospects of 3 thousand new permanent jobs, 3 thousand construction jobs, and tax revenue of $33 million per year softened people's thinking. Perhaps a fear of parties and interests getting labeled as "anti-growth" loomed large. Perhaps the desert of asphalt gave lie to gentrification-style complaints.

Maybe the opposition just never bothered to count votes.

But after a special public meeting on Monday and a public hearing on Tuesday, Councilor Patrick Dowd said, "We have a lot of work to do," but "I'm eager to support this."  Councillor Bill Peduto said, "The soup isn't ready yet," yet that "given another six hours, the people in this room could figure it out." Councilor Theresa Smith said, "developers work with communities all the time," and that she "wants to bring the parties together."

Neighboring stake holders, concerned organizations and public speakers approached the development with likewise equanimity.

If only delivery access through Smallman St. can be preserved...

If only the buffer zone from the river bank could be made larger, to protect the health of the river and the flood plane...

If only the old produce terminal could be better incorporated and utilized...

If only the general character and design of the development was harmonious with what we have in the Strip...

If only we knew what sorts of commercial tenants are going in there, exactly...

If only there was a better certainty of parks, open spaces and pedestrian river access...

If only the railroad right-of-way could be accommodated, perhaps enabling commuter rail one day...

If only the development could comply with the City's new storm water regulations for public development in a more fully rigorous and generously interpreted way...

And, surrounding it all, if only about $50 million in tax increment financing (TIF) wasn't necessary to provide the sewers and streets generally required in any brand new neighborhood.

Flickr, RJ Schmidt
So you see what is happening here. The environmental advocates are developing a keen interest in railroad rights-of-way. The preservationists are beginning to learn things about the wholesaling business. The kayakers and bicyclists are learning all about TIFs, and to develop expectations.


To be certain, the project has so many outstanding unresolved issues, it's a little embarrassing to have it in the spotlight in this condition. Yet the zoning changes it apparently necessitates simply had to move forward, lest disillusionment and inertia risk being allowed to set in. Alas and alack, lines in the sand and on the table are now being drawn with furious and political aplomb.

A text amendment will be necessary!, declared Peduto, a likely mayoral challenger, having finagled a legitimate parliamentary excuse from his colleagues to speak freely during a public hearing while reporters were still at work. To earn Peduto's vote -- which these days, translates to three votes out of nine, maybe four on a good day -- any new zoning legislation Council passes must be changed contingent upon points he will outline a letter he is about to refine and release.

(Meanwhile, fellow likely mayoral challenger Michael Lamb would have been elsewhere, as is his accustomed privilege as City Controller, biding his time on thorny development issues while perhaps catching up on some old-school prothonatation.)

Three or four votes is not five, however -- and most members simply desire to responsibly navigate the legal snafus while striking the best deal that is strike-ready between communities, the property holder, and the City. One could say that is Council's position.

A lot of the disparate concerns boil down to that accessory area of the Strip maintaining its residual magnetism as a delivery hub, a port really -- multi-modal, spacious, spontaneous and full of opportunity. We see those parking lots as "seas of asphalt," but heck, they're probably welcome hotels and storage lockers to the occasional visitor.

Pittsburgh Vendor: Whoa, whoa... what are you doing here, buddy?
Random Trucker: Oh, man. I'm sorry, but I've got to get these paw-print sweat pants off the street and I'm looking at this map...

The one and only Klozetmonkey
That is one reason the Comet strenuously prefers the name "Port Buncher" over the imperial and soullessly bourgeois moniker, "Riverfront Landing."

If only the developers can be perceived to be presiding over a curated marketplace of opportunity: combining old-world elbow-jostling esprit de corps within the newer-school vertically integrated framework. The giveaway is the fact that this area once combined shipping access with train access with functionally public portage platforms and terminals. Those specific commercial tactics are gone, but the strategy underlying those tactics might still be employable as an accessory -- the success of today's Strip District proves that it merits serious creative deliberation.


Mr. Balestrieri of Buncher Co. did a more than fine job depicting his development as "connecting residents to the river front," which would also, "connect the Strip to the river, and build the Strip, Pittsburgh's next high-growth neighborhood."

Because after all, "The central business district [the Golden Triangle] needs to expand," and so, this "Can't continue to be a surface parking lots for the next several decades."

Of particular note is that Buncher already owns the vast majority of these 55 specific acres of land, as well as land way up the river front into Lawrenceville. This distinguishes it from other recent controversial developments, in which large parcels of public land were being released into the wild of the private sector. Additionally, the desirability to most City leaders of residential growth in locations such as that is great -- it's legacy building.

It is not known what is Buncher's "Plan B" for all this riverfront property if the zoning changes and other arrangements made in collusion with the Mayor and his URA fall through. Perhaps they will go a'fracking; 55 acres would be more than sufficient under new proposed legislation.


  1. In deference to local convention, I'm going to call it "Where the giant parking lot used to be" regardless of the actual name.

  2. Now you are making me hope this process will:

    (A) make the plan better (not all things to all people, but worthwhile); and yet

    (B) not stop it from happening.

    So now if am disappointed, I will blame the Comet.

  3. what the strip could be if a more innovative and authentic design approach is used for the strip:

  4. The principles are embedded here:

    and yes, here:

    so much work that Buncher has ignored here:

  5. Strip Landing? (As opposed to Landing Strip.)

    Smallman Landing

    Bigman Landing

    Heinz Crossing


  6. Thanks for all those links, 10:08. I think what gets missed here a little is, this is (almost) all Buncher land. So there's not really a huge a space as we're used to for "us" to claim responsibility to design anything -- they can be as innovative or authentic or use whatever principles the feel like under the current zoning.

    I think what has happened is, there *is* some stuff they want we can give them (a third of the produce terminal, some height / density changes) and there is certainly some stuff we want from them (adherence to the Riverfront vision, and all sorts of stuff). So the plan is sort of a "deal" between Buncher and the URA / city administration.

    But -- and this gets to BrianTH's comment -- but if council doesn't accept the zoning (or let's say, the RR wins its easement), Buncher may still be able to do stuff. Lots of stuff. But it'll probably involve stuff we don't want like building right up to the shore line and/or not including any residential component.

  7. will Peduto stay in the race if he gets bad polling numbers or will he tuck his tail and run. as you recall he went into a tailspin after his second venture for mayor and was a recluse for months. I hope his meds are working!

  8. 11:23 - Given the day's news, I welcome a little off-topic.

    I think it's notable that dropping out of the race 6 years ago still rankles folks. Like, why? Did they want him to be Mayor that badly? Are they still that upset with how things turned out?

    But whatever else you want to say about it, the stated reason for withdrawing -- the necessity then to wage a furious negative campaign against an "incumbent" and perceived rightful heir in the wake of Bob O'Connor's death -- that probably plays a whole lot better today than it did 6 years ago.

    (And where was it I heard remarks about ppl accused of taking or of being "off meds" before.... thinking, thinking... was it ACCBO?)

  9. Anon 9:27 - You had it at "Donzi's Landing".

  10. I want to be clear with you, Anon 11:23, whoever you are. I'm not out here stumping for Bill -- he's a flawed candidate. It's just that seedy, vague invocations of the mental health stigma (e.g. calling someone "crazy" also) or other stigmas is a surefire way of triggering my berserk button. Every time. [Exit stage left, spurs jingle-jangling].

  11. Fitz is hedging. Writng a check to Peduto while his staffers work for Lamb

  12. Yes, Donzi's Landing. Fitting refinement Bram.

  13. Bram , I wasn't trying to malign Peduto's mental health, as a matter of fact
    I understand that he's quite stable. Nor did I ask if he's is still a fixture in a certain walnut st. emporium. no I was just wondering if he will bear up under the pressures of the campaign!

  14. btw Fitz already emailing the troops touting his "contribution"!!!

  15. I don't understand how going to a bar is supposed to be a problem for a mayor. It's certainly my favorite hobby. It's not like the mayor has his finger on the button.

  16. I missed the first day of Buncher comments - did anyone discuss the integration of public transit accessibility?

  17. Does non-existent passenger rail to Fox Chapel count?

  18. Bram,
    the reason Peduto dropping out in 07 is a problem is seen in this, from the City Paper:
    He pledges he'll announce his next move before the end of the year, but at this point, he says, it's possible that he could drop his bid and run for re-election to his council seat instead.

    Who can take him seriously??

  19. I think maybe you're just road-testing talking points, not raising issues. The very next sentence is "Still, it doesn't seem likely: A few minutes later, Peduto joked about having been in council so long that he'd "either have to move on or just become part of the furniture."

    Maybe it indicates he's being too open when he talks to the press, but it seems to be a reasonable caveat this far head.

  20. It appears that Bill once forgot to buy a round for a certain anonymous Shadyside barfly who now repeatedly vents his spleen in blog comments. We get it. See you at the Mardi Gras (it moved, you know).

  21. I've heard some of the same spleen toward Peduto out in Greenfield streets as a community organizer - one REALLY big guy in a leather biker jacket down in the Run turned his outside voice to high volume when I mentioned Peduto looked likely to run for Mayor.

    "Guy turned tail and RAN when it looked like the going gonna get tough" this dude fumed, in what seemed to me to be jilted-voter frothing. "And look what we got left with..." He swung his big arm out to the muddy streets around us that had just re-emerged from the latest poop-soup flood on August 5th...

  22. ah... Bill Peduto 's chickens are coming home to roost!!

  23. The basin cleaning does seem to have helped the flooding on the Murray Avenue parts of Greenfield that flooded a couple of years back. But maybe just the dry summer made that difference.

  24. @MH

    This last flood was definitely less poopy than the last, and many of the Run residents credited PWSA's work with being a better band-aid than nothing.

    @Anonymous 10:15 AM

    I don't think the biker dude was equating Peduto with the muck - he went on to talk about how cronyism had favored the fat cats of da' Burgh on multiple issues, and had left him and his neighbors without the kind of advocacy and action he'd hoped from Peduto. Not that he was at all sure that Peduto as mayor would have delivered what he needed - just that it would have been some better. He had been bitterly disappointed and personally damaged by actual developments and non-developments over the last few years.

  25. @MH

    The August 5th downpour was 1.55 inches in 30 minutes - I'd just left the Run when the rain started and very quickly found myself having to drive around rivers. Couldn't get through that five-way intersection at the base of Murray, although I saw a a couple high-steppin' SUVs make it through the thigh-high current.

    The ongoing pattern of quick, intense downpours over the last few years is a widespread trending pattern predicted by models of global warming - which means more floods on the way. If Pittsburgh went totally green, with porous pavement on every square inch of available concrete surface area, roadside bioswales, rain gardens everywhere, etc., the problem wouldn't go away. But other models of success suggest that things would be a hell of a lot better than they are right now.

    Sorry if I've already thrown this link at you before, MH - I've been tossing stuff back and forth to various folks all over Pgh and forget to whom and where I've posted what:

  26. Thanks for the link. That was a great deal of rain very quickly. I was thinking of a few years ago who stores flooded. That apparently didn't happen this time. Anyway, it used to be that a very moderate rain (like Thursday) would have rain down the street on Murray. That didn't happen that I saw.