A residential complex set to add nearly 300 apartments to Upper Lawrenceville could get final approval from Pittsburgh’s Planning Commission on Tuesday, Sept. 5. 

On July 25, the site’s developer, Albion Residential of Oak Brook, Illinois, presented its proposal to the City Planning Commission for what the company is calling Albion Lawrenceville.

Andrew Yule, vice president of development for Albion Residential, made it clear early on that maintaining a strong relationship with the Lawrenceville community is integral to the company’s plans.

“We were touring the marketplace, looking for new opportunities, and the vintage charm, the walkability, the proximity to public transit, the ability to get Downtown really grabbed us as a … long-term owner and developer,” Yule says. “We are not a merchant builder — we’re not trying to flip the property out — we’re trying to select a site for us that we can maintain and manage for a very long time.”

Albion also assisted in the development and management of Morrow Park City Apartments, now known as Albion at Morrow Park, in Bloomfield.

Yule attended the briefing session alongside attorney Bill Sittig, the site’s architect, Paul Alessandro of Chicago-based Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture, and several other Albion representatives.

The presentation touched on every aspect of Albion Lawrenceville’s development, including the materials used for the building’s construction, the renovation of the Engine Company No. 9 Firehouse into a coffee shop, expanded parking and public transportation, affordable and accessible housing regulations within the development’s district, the safety of roadways in the area, and a zoning variance allowing for increased building height.

A graphic demonstrating the different zoning clearances on Albion’s proposed lot, which is split between two zoning districts. Image courtesy of the Pittsburgh Department of City Planning.

Albion met with the Zoning Board of Adjustment in February to request a variance that would allow the building to reach 72.6 feet tall along Butler Street, which was approved unanimously.

The L-shaped site is split between two zoning districts. The longer portion along McCandless Avenue allows buildings up to 90 feet tall, while buildings along the shorter portion of the site on Butler Street can be only 45 feet tall.

Once complete, Albion Lawrenceville will wrap around the freight terminal which is now office space housing the Persad Center. Alessandro says that the building was purposefully designed to not be as tall as possible along McCandless, so that if the freight terminal decides to build up — which the property is prime for, he adds — the two structures would create a stepping effect.

“We’re doing it almost like a mixed-use development, taking into account the very successful and vibrant reuse of that building and to take into account what that property may become,” Sittig says.

In accordance with Lawrenceville Corporation’s guidelines, the building features bump-outs and benches for pedestrians, as well as plentiful bike storage. 

A conceptual rendering of bicyclists passing through the Berlin Way easement. Rendering courtesy of the Pittsburgh Department of City Planning.

Easements through the apartment building will keep open two roads — Berlin Way and 53rd Street off of McCandless Avenue and Butler Street, respectively — which serve as the primary access to the office space. 

City Planning Commissioner Becky Mingo expressed concern that the currently planned 20-foot wide easements leave no room for pedestrian or cyclist traffic.

“Most particularly, I’m concerned about your own tenants here and the fighting between the cars and the pedestrians without having some clarity on that particular area,” Mingo said. “You have dogs, you have an exit from a building stair and there’s just going to be pedestrians there.”

Mingo added that a lack of lighting on the back side of the building was problematic.

Sittig replied that Albion is currently pursuing a neighborway designation, which would decrease speeds in the area and increase accessibility and awareness for pedestrians and cyclists. He noted that Berlin Way will double as a garage entrance for the building.

“We have the owner of that office building that also needs to get cars and deliveries in and out of there, so it’s a challenge,” Sittig said. “It’s just a pinch point. There’s only a 20-foot-wide right of way there.”

A map showing the location of the proposed Albion Lawrenceville development and the surrounding area. Map courtesy of thePittsburgh Department of City Planning.

Responding to a question from City Planning Commissioner Holly Dick, Sitting said that 2% of the total number of units will be fully accessible to residents with disabilities.

“You have an opportunity here; I think it’d be fairly easy to do more than 2% accessible,” Mingo replied. “I know that people are asking a lot of you in this project, but I actually think it’d be pretty simple to do a few more. I think there’s demand for it — I mean, I haven’t done a market study — but I bet there’s demand for all sorts of different levels of accessible units. You might find you have a waiting list for accessible units.”

Sitting noted that an additional 10% of units are designated “adaptable,” and are easily modified to fit any and all accessibility requirements a future resident may need.

An additional 10% of units — studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments spread out across floors — will be affordable housing in accordance with Pittsburgh’s 2019 inclusionary zoning guidelines. Albion will also accept housing choice vouchers.

“I think it’s a great step in the right direction for developers in the marketplace and we’re real eager to show you our plans for that and go further with the city on distribution of the units,” Yule said.

Albion’s development received overwhelming support at a community meeting with Lawrenceville United and Lawrenceville Corporation before the City Planning Commission briefing. 

“As a result of those efforts and ongoing communications, [Lawrenceville United and Lawrenceville Corporation] determined that another community meeting isn’t even required,” Sittig said.

Should the September vote be in Albion’s favor, construction will begin in November.

Roman wants to hear the stories created in Pittsburgh. When not reporting, he plays difficult video games that make him upset and attempts to make delicious meals out of mismatched leftovers.