Community members divided over the need for housing versus preserving tree canopy and stability of the hillside
By Juliet Martinez
Developers met with community members on September 15 to update them on the Woods Village development planned on Monongahela Avenue between Chance Way and Tullymet Street. They heard feedback both in support of the new housing and reservations about removing trees and green space.
Developer Krish Pandya of Oak Moss Consulting said the complex will have 62 rental townhomes, of which most will be two bedrooms with two and a half bathrooms, with a small number of studio apartments and four or five three-bedroom units. Of those, 10% of the square footage will be set aside as affordable, though how many units that would be, and whether it would include retail space is not set.
Mr. Pandya said the definition of affordable for this development has yet to be determined. The current plans include $4 million in spending on minority- and women-owned businesses, and a workforce development component, Mr. Pandya said. He said the choice to build onsite instead of using modular construction revolved around the workforce development and the prospective contracts with women- and minority-owned businesses.
Mr. Pandya said his team conducted a geotechnical workup of the site, soil testing and a grading plan. The phase 1 environmental study did not find toxic substances like oil, asbestos or heavy metals that would have to be remediated, and that the Urban Redevelopment Authority has reviewed those reports.
The developers surveyed trees that would need to be removed from the wooded hillside. The city requires developers to re-plant an equivalent diameter of the trees they remove, so if a 12-inch diameter trunk is removed, the developer can re-plant six two-inch-diameter trees to replace it. Mr. Pandya said there are now 131 inches of tree diameter on the site.
Mr. Pandya said he already sources his trees through Floriated Interpretations on Second Avenue and will continue to do so, as well as focusing on planting native species.
Points of contention
Cutting down trees and hillside stability were points of contention among attendees.
One participant referred to the city’s Climate Action Plan, which sets the goal of increasing tree canopy coverage from 42% to 60% in Pittsburgh and halting tree canopy loss to development.
“For all that this is a fine proposal,” he said, “Why are we here talking about replacing canopy forest with housing? Especially when we have acres and acres and acres of empty ground to develop first? Let's save our forests for last.”
Another attendee said she grew up across the street from the former YMCA where the meeting took place and now lives on Gladstone Avenue. She said she worries that the hillside is not stable enough for the housing development, and that a landslide would affect her home uphill from the development.
But several of those present pointed out that the site for the proposed Woods Village development once had houses on it, and therefore, they said is a good place to build new housing. A participant who said she lives on Monongahela Street across from the proposed site, said she frequently sees deer, turkeys and raccoons around her house, and fears the trees will come down every time there is a storm.
“I don’t know what everybody’s problem is with building houses for people to live,” she said, “Not animals, people!”
Others praised the proposal for including two- and three-bedroom townhomes where families can live, saying there are not enough units of this size available to families in and around Hazelwood.
“This development is offering the opportunity for generations of families to stay,” another neighborhood resident said. “It’s a blessing that they’re going to have two to three bedrooms because that is going to stabilize the community.”
Another resident at the meeting countered that the affordable units will most likely be out of reach for most of the people in Greater Hazelwood, where the median income is under $21,000, less than a quarter of the county median income.
She said removing the tree canopy for such a small number of units with doubtful affordability seemed ill-conceived, particularly as roughly 3,500 housing units are planned for Hazelwood Green.
“Most affordable housing is at 50, 60 or 80% [of area median income], so I can’t see being excited about six units that probably won’t serve people who live here,” she said. “What are 65 units in a forest? The forest is the most important thing there.”