Firesite Update! at the upcoming Community Meeting…

There may be some progress at the long-vacant properties, known collectively as the Firesite. The PHCA is currently looking into a proposal that would both offer permanent affordability and bring new life into the heart of the neighborhood.

The history of the Firesite now spans over a decade. The neighborhood, and the PHCA with it, have worked through a long series of steps to bring us to this opportunity.

As you may remember, the story of the Firesite began in November 2007, when a fire destroyed 3111 Brereton Street and the surrounding properties. The neighborhood was always concerned about what might be done to revitalize the site, but we didn’t get deeply involved until December 2010 when, at the PHCA’s request, a subsidiary of the URA purchased the 3 lots (each spanning from Brereton to Dobson) that make up the Firesite. Since then, the PHCA has worked with the city and other strategic partners to:

  • Put together a community plan for the site
  • Conduct a development bidding process, and
  • In 2014, select an architect/contractor team to develop on the site.

Unfortunately, due to the financing limitations of the project and the acquisition cost of the land, the developers were unable to move forward with the project. The neighborhood was grateful for all their efforts to try to make the project happen, and they stepped away from the project on good terms.

Around the same time that the insurmountable challenges to for-profit development of the Firesite were becoming clear, the PHCA began to look into some alternatives non-profit models that might be possible. One specific approach, which was set up right next-door by Lawrenceville Corporation (LC), was called a Community Land Trust (CLT).

A CLT is a nonprofit corporation that develops and stewards affordable housing. But how does it do this? By changing the way someone buys a house. To explain further…when you buy a house, the usual purchase actually includes two assets: the house itself and the land underneath it. But when you buy a house from a CLT, you just buy the house, not the land. The CLT maintains ownership of the land, but leases the land to you at a very affordable cost.

It’s set up this way because the lease agreement enables the CLT to put certain rules into place—rules written in consultation with the community. Three of the most important rules that are included in a CLT land lease are:

  • Only people under a certain income range are eligible to buy the property
  • A limit on how much the house can be resold for
  • Owner-occupancy is required.

For example, in Lawrenceville, LC sold one of their CLT houses for $125,000 to people who make 80 percent or less of the area median income. That house’s resale price will rise with the median income—not at the incredible double-digit rate of appreciation that the rest of Lawrenceville homes were experiencing.

You may be wondering how CLT homeownership is different from market rate homeownership. Well, CLT home ownership is practically the same as market rate home ownership. CLT home owners build equity, make their mortgage payments, and are responsible for property taxes. They can use their yards as they wish, and can make aesthetic modifications to the homes.

All these aspects about a CLT have been attractive to the PHCA board because it aligns both with the PHCA’s mission and, more specifically, the neighborhood’s priorities for the Firesite. So, when Lawrenceville Corporation invited us to participate in discussions to create a new stand-alone CLT organization that could benefit multiple surrounding communities, we were excited to get involved — particularly because we think the CLT model would be a great way to not only get the site developed, but also ensure that the neighborhood’s desire for permanently affordable housing could be realized.

The idea of the Firesite becoming a part of this new CLT organization, that could build multiple owner-occupied houses that will remain permanently affordable, is now very real possibility. We look forward to hearing your thoughts and insights during the upcoming Community Meetings, held on the first Tuesday of each month.

October 4th Community Meeting

The monthly Polish Hill Community meeting is Tuesday, October 4th at 6:30pm!

The PHCA monthly community meetings cover key activities, are where City and local officials come to tell Polish Hill residents about things that will affect the neighborhood, or to provide information on opportunities or resources. The meetings are also a place for residents to provide suggestions and feedback. Meetings are held on the first Tuesday of each month at 6:30 p.m. on the lower level of the West Penn Recreation Center, 450 30th Street.

Public meeting on June 23 about PennDOT Bigelow Boulevard road project


On June 22, PENNDOT will begin a two-year infrastructure and maintenance work on Bigelow Boulevard and Baum Boulevard.

PENNDOT will be holding a public informationsal meeting on Tuesday, June 23rd at 7:00 p.m. at the Courtyard Marriott at 5308 Liberty Ave (at Aiken). This is a public meeting for residents to learn about the scope of the project including its tentative timeline, detour routes, and regular working schedule. It will also provide an opportunity for residents from affected communities to ask questions and raise concerns.

This will be a lengthy project and even neighborhoods not containing the construction itself will be affected by detoured routes and increased traffic as drivers will be looking for ways to avoid the construction delays.

Supervisors of the project will be providing regular updates to District 7 Council office as well as being open to questions/concerns from the community throughout the project. Residents will have an opportunity to meet the supervisors and others associated with the project at the June 23 meeting.

For an overview of the project, read the Post-Gazette article here.

(Photo of Bigelow Boulevard by Bruce S. Cridlebaugh, from PghBridges)


Fire Site Development drawings presented at the September 2 community meeting


Architects Pfaffmann + Associates presented the preliminary drawings for the Fire Site Development at the September 2 community meeting.  The slideshow of images included building plans, elevations, and projections of what the buildings will look in context with the rest of the surrounding buildings on Brereton and Dobson streets.



The development includes two for-sale units on Dobson Street and rental units on Brereton that will convert to for-sale buildings several years after construction.  These drawings are not exactly what the buildings will look like; still to be determined are details like siding, colors, trim, and plantings.   Factors in the design process included the limitations of the small, steep site, the need for off-street parking, and input from Polish Hill residents.


Pfamman+Associates_FireSite_Floor plans

Now, the developer will begin working to secure financing for the project.  Next are approvals, permits, and site preparation.  Although there is already interest from people who would like to rent or buy, there will be no pre-sales until the actual construction begins, probably next summer.

See the article from the Summer-Fall Polish Hill Voice for more details on the plans.

(Drawings courtesy of Pfaffmann + Associates)

Density options presented at the final community meeting for the Fire Site Development

sketch from Fire Site sketchbook

The final community meeting for the Brereton Dobson Fire Site Development took place on Tuesday, March 11. At the meeting, Fire Site steering committee members explained how community input from the two previous meetings and two workshops resulted in a proposal that is a hybrid of different suggestions from residents .  Attendees gave feedback on sketches and 3D models  depicting what the units could look like with 3, 4, 6 or 8 rental micro units on Brereton Street and 2 for-sale live/work units on Dobson Street.  Attendees then participated in breakout sessions that discussed density/ownership structure and look and feel of the development.  The meeting wrapped up with a full group community feedback session.

At the meeting, the architect shared a sketch booklet of slides that showed  how community input was narrowed down to several different density options.  Those who were not able to attend the meeting can click here to view the Brereton Dobson Fire Site Sketch Booklet.

The Fire Site Steering Committee is currently reviewing all the input from the Polish Hill Community Plan, market study, interviews with Polish Hill residents, creative Polish Hill identity workshop, three community meetings, online feedback and other input.  The Steering Committee will make a recommendation to the property owners (Pittsburgh Housing Development Corporation) on whether or not to proceed with this architect/developer team and their sketches.

Third community meeting for the Fire Site Development on March 11

aerial view

Find out what kinds of buildings are planned for the Fire Site!

The third public meeting for the Fire Site Development will take place at Pittsburgh Filmmakers, at 477 Melwood Avenue just outside Polish Hill, on Tuesday, March 11 from 6:00 – 8:00 p.m.

Ask questions, share your impressions, and learn about how your input was incorporated into the final design.  This is the third and final public meeting, and the last meeting before the developer decides whether to move forward with buying the land and building anything there.

Fire Site Development second public meeting gets a good turnout on a very cold evening


Over thirty people turned out on a frigid evening for the second public meeting about the fire site development.  After a brief introduction, the attendees were divided into three sections, cycling between three spaces for smaller discussion groups.


One discussion was about site design, where attendees learned about the physical layout of the fire site and what could be built there.  Architects Pfaffmann + Associates provided a scale model of the site and foam shapes representing possible unit sizes.  Residents could see what different configurations might look like on the site.



In the Users and Uses discussion, the subject was who might be the potential residents, and what kinds of commercial development might be possible.  Residents could also talk about what kinds of features or amenities they’d like to see as part of the development.


In the Economics discussion, residents learned about the underlying economics of developing the site — the financial realities that would have a bearing on what could be built.

Some people wished that a little grocery store or laundry would open at the site.  As they stated at the first public meeting, the developer and architect told attendees that if prospective business owners are interested in the site, this is the time to come forward and make a commitment.


Some people wanted rental units or live/work spaces; others wanted to see just three single family homes on the site.  Others wanted some public green space.  The architects noted the opinions and feedback.


After the attendees had gone through all three discussions, they reassembled for a final group discussion.  Now, the architects will take the input they received at this meeting and create drawings of various design possibilities for the site.  At the next public meeting, which will take place sometime in March, they will present the drawings and seek another round of community feedback.

For another viewpoint on the meeting, read Diana Nelson-Jones’ article in the Post-Gazette.