The Squirrel Hill land where the Irish Centre is located at 6886 Forward Ave. has a number of challenges for its development into 162 condominium units — and more are emerging.
The land has a steep slope and a geologist who testified against the development before the Pittsburgh Zoning Board of Adjustment on Thursday, Aug. 3, noted it is surrounded by Pennsylvania red beds, which are unstable and have been the cause of landslides around the property.
The land is also adjacent to Nine Mile Run, a stream that underwent an extensive reclamation process and thus the developers have to be careful not to allow runoff from the property to infiltrate the stream.
Now, Helen Wilson, a Squirrel Hill historian, has written in the Squirrel Hill Historical Society newsletter that in the 1920s, the property was owned by Fern Hollow Gas Oil Company, which left a legacy of oil drilling there.
Sometime before 1920, a well drilled on the site “produced an unusually large quantity of oil. This created an oil fever in and about that community,” the three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court of Appeals wrote in a decision on a tax case that Wilson discovered.
Shares were sold to 578 people for $100 a share and more wells were drilled, but the wells did not produce as well as the prospectors had hoped, so the 4-acre property was sold.
There is no record of what happened to the wells or if they were properly sealed.
Ray Baum of Squirrel Hill, the attorney representing the developer, Craft Development Group of Toronto, said in an email that the geotechnical engineers for the developer have “performed a phase I environmental review that includes a review of the history of the use of the property.”
Baum said the early indications are that the engineers don’t expect any of the site issues to create a problem with the development.
He added that there will be an additional investigation of the site “after Craft receives its variances and proceeds with its construction plans.”
The plan to build an eight-story building with 162 condominium units at the Irish Centre site has been met with wide-ranging opposition.
The property is located adjacent to Frick Park and is currently zoned for park use. The developer has applied for zoning variances for the use, the size of the building and for the height of the retaining wall needed to build there.
The parties have until Sept. 14 to submit their arguments and supporting documentation. After that, the Zoning Board of Adjustment will have 45 days to make a decision.