Thirty hardy denizens of Polish Hill and a few others turned out last night for the “Fire Site” planning meeting at Pittsburgh Filmmakers in North Oakland. Representatives of the Program for Deliberative Democracy also attended.
Deliberative democracy is what architects Pfaffmann + Associates and their collaborative developer, Ernie Sota of Sota Construction and Green Services, are trying to achieve by letting people who live in Polish Hill have a say in what gets built on the site between Brereton and Dobson Streets where several buildings burned in a 2007 fire. The Pittsburgh Housing Development Corp. owns the 7,300 square-foot site.
Rob Pfaffmann (shown in photo below) led a workshop of people who considered the space in 3-D, moving pink building blocks (see photo above) of different sizes and shapes to represent three-story homes with pitched roofs, two stories with garages, apartments with outdoor terraces and gardens.
There’s room for 10 apartments, but Pfaffmann allowed for “three to 10.” Density is Polish Hill’s tradition but it may not be its future. Building on a slope that’s 18 feet higher on Brereton than it is on Dobson can be expensive, but because of that, density would make sense.
“We want single family houses,” said one woman, who apparently didn’t speak for everyone.
“I would lean away from families,” said one young participant in the Uses & User workshop. “We need spaces where people can interact.”
Architect Carl Bergamini suggested a use that would merge two Polish Hill demographics — those who are young and just starting out and those who want to age in place there. Both need affordability.
The hardest part of the Fire Site project might not be to reach a consensus but to build to that consensus. The emerging demographic — 20 and 30-somethings — have expressed a desire for creative space. Many across all age groups want retail. In a perfect world there would be more small retail in neighborhoods but in a perfect world, small businesses are adequately supported by their neighborhoods.
Plus the developer has to calculate what will bring him the best return. There’s no perfect being handed out anywhere that I know of and charity isn't why people wade into this stuff.
“I can’t think of a single retail that would be viable” on the site, one participant said. “We couldn’t even support a butcher shop.”
The participants went through development consultant Tom Hardy’s pro forma workshop to learn about the costs of development. Roughly 70 percent of a total project cost is for construction. Other costs are what they call “soft” -- for architects, attorneys, insurance, appraisals, loan interest, financing, permits, water connections, marketing, site engineering, soil tests, sales commissions, transfer taxes...
.... runarounds, delays, bureaucracies, surprises — whoops! water and sewer nightmares, please share on facebook; whoops, that money we were counting on? It just backed out; back to square 2 — oh, and don’t forget that every developer needs variances.
The rule of thumb to keep in mind when you are pondering the pros and cons is $120 per square foot. That’s roughly $8.7 million for the Fire Site.
Jumpin’ jack jetskis, Batman. It must so totally be worth the hassle.