Pittsburgh, developer call truce over East Liberty apartment complex

Sign up for one of our email newsletters.Updated 7 hours ago Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto's administration and a Downtown developer who have battled over an East Liberty apartment complex called a truce Thursday. The sides agreed to negotiate without...

Pittsburgh, developer call truce over East Liberty apartment complex

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Updated 7 hours ago

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto's administration and a Downtown developer who have battled over an East Liberty apartment complex called a truce Thursday.

The sides agreed to negotiate without public comment after failing to resolve differences over the Penn Plaza apartments.

Pittsburgh had sought an injunction stopping Pennley Park South, the owner of Penn Plaza, from doing further work inside the remaining high-rise building along Penn Avenue. Attorneys for Pittsburgh and Penn Plaza appeared Thursday morning in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court.

The sides agreed to negotiate a settlement upon the recommendation of Judge John T. McVay Jr., who asked them to refrain from talking publicly about the situation. McVay scheduled a status conference for March 3.

Neither side would comment afterward.

“We're going to respect the court's request for no further comment,” said Jonathan Kamin, who represents Pennley Park.

The company, a subsidiary of Downtown-based LG Realty Advisors founded by Lawrence Gumberg, plans a $150 million mixed development that includes a Whole Foods grocery store, offices and about 400 apartments.

Residents and affordable housing advocates have panned the development, saying it is forcing poor people out of the neighborhood. East Liberty has been one of Pittsburgh's biggest hot spots for new development with new residential complexes and rents as high as $3,000 per month.

Penn Plaza rented to market-rate and low-income residents.

The Pittsburgh Planning Commission last month rejected the company's plans and Pennley Park is suing to overturn the unanimous decision.

Pittsburgh claimed in its petition seeking the injunction that the company violated a written agreement signed in 2015 by the administration and Pennley Park by starting demolition work inside the remaining building at Penn Plaza, placing about 20 residents at risk. Pennley Park last year demolished the other apartment building on site and has paid to relocate nearly 200 residents of both buildings.

McVay issued an order saying both sides agreed to a “standstill” until the status conference but would not specify what that meant.

“We interpret that to mean that there will be no further demolition work,” said Kevin Acklin, Peduto's chief of staff.

In a letter to the city Wednesday, Kamin wrote that workers are preparing for demolition by removing fixtures such as kitchen cabinets from vacant apartments and that the work is not hazardous. City and Allegheny County Health Department inspectors have visited the property and found no violations, he wrote.

Pennley Park in 2015 agreed to pay each tenant a cash subsidy to help with their relocation. Remaining residents have until March 31 to move.

The company also agreed to transfer 50 percent of money from a 10-year tax abatement into a fund to be used for building low-income housing in the city.

Pennley Park estimates the development would mean up to $20 million for the fund.

“We're the only developer committed to contributing to the affordable housing fund,” Zachary Gumberg, a partner in LG Realty, said before Thursday's hearing began.

Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-765-2312 or bbauder@tribweb.com.

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