Rendering of Craft Development Group's proposed residential project at 6886 Forward Ave. in Squirrel Hill courtesy of Indovina Associates Architects.

Toronto-based developer Craft Development Group was dealt a setback in its plans for an eight-story, 160-unit apartment building on the former Irish Centre property when the Pittsburgh Zoning Board of Adjustment denied its request for a needed zoning variance on Monday.

The property at 6886 Forward Ave., which is surrounded by Frick Park, is zoned for parkland, which can include community centers such as the Irish Centre.

The proposal to develop the property by installing large retaining walls, digging down for underground parking and constructing an 87-foot-tall building — more than twice the size permitted in that area — has been a contentious one. Ryan Indovina is the architect working with Craft.

While the development had support, including from housing advocates, the majority of the people who have testified and who wrote to the board oppose the project

In the decision, the board stated “the Board does not make its decisions based on a show of hands of those who attend the hearing or on a tally of comments submitted. The Board received hundreds of submissions, some in favor and some opposed to the project. The Board appreciates that the issues presented in this case were of significant community interest and commends the level of public participation and different perspectives provided.”

The board did note that while Craft was looking for a use variance that would allow it to put a multifamily residence in a park, it only stated that building multiple single-family homes, a use that is permitted, would be cost-prohibitive. But the developer did not mention other permitted uses and the conclusion “that the property can only be viably used for a multi-unit residential use is not credible,” the board wrote.

While the developer was supposed to show that the proposed building “would not ‘alter the essential character of the neighborhood’,” the board members said the company failed to do so.

“The applicant was unable to credibly demonstrate that an eight-story structure for a multi-unit residential use on the subject property would be consistent with the essential character of a neighborhood that includes, as its predominant feature, Frick Park,” the board wrote.

The developer can appeal the decision to the Court of Common Pleas.

Ann Belser is the owner of Print, a newspaper covering Pittsburgh's East End communities. After receiving a master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, she moved to Squirrel Hill and was a staff writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for 20 years where she covered local communities, county government, courts and business.