Zoning Board rejects variances for proposed project leaving future of site uncertain.
BLOOMFIELD, Nov. 6, 2023 — Today the Pittsburgh Zoning Board of Adjustment issued their decision regarding Echo Realty’s proposed development of 4401 Liberty Avenue (the former site of the ShurSave and current site of Community Market). With the rejection of the requested variances, the future of 4401 Liberty Avenue is left uncertain. As an organization, we envision a Bloomfield where everyone can build a home, a business, and a future. We are concerned that this decision makes that vision harder to accomplish.
The inclusion of a grocery store was and continues to be a top concern for BDC. We were thrilled to have a commitment to the inclusion of a new grocery store at this site as part of the development proposal put forth by Echo Realty. Previous development proposals included no grocery store due to uncertainty about the viability of a new development grocery store at the site. Our primary concern going forward is whether Echo will still see a full service grocery store as viable at this site without the accompanying residential density that would have added a significant customer base alongside the surrounding neighborhood. Grocery stores, like any business, require a strong base of local customers. The unfortunate reality is that the current grocery store property was developed for a neighborhood that had three times as many residents as Bloomfield does today.
Bloomfield needs housing, particularly affordable housing. Thanks to Inclusionary Zoning that BDC fought for, this proposal would have significantly increased the number of income-restricted affordable units available in Bloomfield overnight. The proposal would have additionally added a significant number of units that would alleviate pressures elsewhere in the neighborhood where our growing number of households continue to compete for a supply of housing that remains stagnant. From 2010 to 2020, the rate of increase in Bloomfield households significantly outpaced the rate of increase in housing units (9.19% and 5.24% respectively). As the City of Pittsburgh Housing Needs Assessment notes, market-related vacancies are at their lowest point since 1980 and multifamily rentals dominate the future housing need in the city (Page 14).
We offered our support to the proposed development as an economically viable project that would serve needs and desires we’ve heard from residents of Bloomfield. A 2018/19 community process around the site led to residents and stakeholders developing models for the site that closely mirrored what Echo Realty proposed, with elements such as the inclusion of a grocery store and housing being chief among them. Echo further agreed to the various conditions we placed on our support to better address concerns heard from the more than 150 residents who attended our two community meetings in July. The conditions doubled down on the highest priorities with requirements to deepen affordability by accepting Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers and to coordinate supplemental grocery access during the construction period. Additional conditions would have led to further investment in pedestrian and traffic safety that would have supplemented city investment.
For the first time in several decades, more people want to move to Bloomfield than leave it. As a walkable, transit rich neighborhood with popular small businesses, this doesn’t come as a surprise. Limiting new development hinders economic growth for our small businesses, displaces low-income residents (who are outcompeted for existing units), and continues the exclusionary practices that originated in redlining and continue to echo in our exclusionary zoning code. Rejection of this proposed project means 25 households that could have moved into new affordable units may not be able to move to Bloomfield at all and more than 200 households who may be interested in moving to Bloomfield are left to compete with existing residents rather than considering this site as their future home.
Unlike previous proposals for this site, Echo Realty owns the site outright, meaning that they’re unlikely to fully walk away from the site. Given this decision we’re uncertain what options Echo Realty may consider for development or how long the Community Market will continue to operate. We look forward to further community engagement around the site as possible alternative development concepts are proposed although if Echo identifies a by-right development option there’s unlikely to be any required engagement or ability for conditions to be placed on the project.