Brookline residents still wary of Castlegate development

Published Apr 22, 2014 at 9:07 am (Updated Apr 22, 2014 at 9:07 am)

Brookline residents remain uneasy over development plans for eight acres of land on Castlegate Avenue, despite a community meeting on April 21. Representatives from Oxford Development and Green Development took questions from residents throughout the evening, touching on issues from traffic congestion to inadequate infrastructure – even a possible uptick in crime if the development proceeds.

Oxford and Green intend to build 120 residential units on the property – 60 of which will be $300,000 town homes. The remaining units will be subsidized housing for senior citizens.

In order to proceed, the developers need the property re-zoned from an R-2 to a high-density R-4 residential designation. The proposed senior housing cannot be built under R-2 or R-3 zoning.

That leaves something of a catch-22 situation. The developers won’t move forward with the planning process till the zoning is changed. Residents, on the other hand, prefer to see aspects of the planning process (for example, a traffic study) completed before re-zoning to R-4.

Complicating matters is the fact that the Castlegate property is actually part of Mt. Lebanon. So, despite the fact that the proposed development is quite literally in their backyards, Brookline residents have no political representatives involved in the process.

Shawn Fox, director of business development and marketing for Oxford, stressed that the developer is committed to considering residents’ views.

“We have been in Pittsburgh for 50 years,” he said. “We employ about 400 people. We have done lots of apartment buildings, we have done South Hills Village Mall and Monroeville Mall. We care deeply about this community. This is our home.”

He and project manager Ben Kelley said the development would go through a multi-stage approval process involving the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Association (PHFA), Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA), Allegheny County Department of Health and even traffic authorities.

They promised the April 21 meeting was only the first of many to come concerning the project.

Brookline residents worry the development will bring excessive traffic to the neighborhood, damage infrastructure during construction and put further stress on deteriorating water and sewer lines.

Another key concern relates to seniors in the subsidized units allowing relatives with drug problems or criminal histories to spend the night in their apartments. A senior housing complex near the proposed development is plagued with crime, residents said, which then spills out into the surrounding neighborhoods.

Kelley explained that the senior apartments will have rigorous checks in place to prevent those problems.

The state program funding the development mandates all residents (excluding spouses) be 62 or older. They must pass background and credit checks and their income must be at least 60 percent of the median county income. For Allegheny County, where the median income is about $50,000, that means residents will have to prove income of around $30,000.

Kelley also said that the structure of the development’s financing provides for additional accountability.

He explained that the state awards developers federal tax credits for building low and medium income housing. Developers sell these tax credits to financial institutions at a discount, using the proceeds to fund such projects. If a developer violates the state’s rules regarding occupancy, the government “recaptures” the tax credits – meaning the banks lose their investments.

“Believe me, it would be more than just my job if PNC or BNY Mellon lost $12 million because someone wasn’t locking their door at night,” Kelley said.

Angela Gaito-Lagnese, who is helping organize the Brookline residents, said concerned citizens will attend the April 28 Mt. Lebanon commission meeting to voice their concerns once more. She emphasized that the majority would like to reach some compromise with the developers, ideally by scaling down the project.

“We are not against development,” Gaito-Lagnese said. “We want to work with the developers to find a solution that works for them and for us.”

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