Frick Park — overview, timeline of events

This article is part of a series on the proposed development at 6886 Forward Avenue. Next week, we will cover in more depth the ecological and logistical implications of the project, and an analysis of the positions in support of and opposed to the development.

On Aug. 3, residents of Swisshelm Park and Squirrel Hill spoke at a meeting of the Pittsburgh Zoning Board of Adjustments to oppose a new residential development being proposed by Craft Development, a Toronto-based company.

The development in question is an eight-story apartment building with 160 condominium units located on Forward Avenue. This street winds through Frick Park, connecting the neighborhoods of Squirrel Hill and Swisshelm Park. The site in question is currently home to the Irish Centre, a community gathering space that has been unoccupied for the last few years. The land is currently zoned as P, or "Parks and Open Space."

This zoning district severely restricts what may be built on this land. Hence, Craft Development applied for a Zoning Variance, a process in which the city waives a zoning restriction for a special case. During the August 3rd hearing, the developers were represented by Ryan Indovina, the leader of the architectural firm in charge of the project. They requested four variances:
- Allow for the construction of multi-family housing. Currently, only single-family detached homes are allowed in P zoning districts.
- Allow for the construction of a retaining wall greater than 10 feet in height. The proposed wall would be 15 feet high.
- Allow for a building greater than 40 feet in height. The proposed building would be 87 feet tall.
- Allow for a Floor-to-Area (FAR) ratio of 1.33 to 1. Currently, developments in parks must have a 1:1 FAR, meaning that you are only allowed to construct one square foot of floor space for every square foot of land.

The Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition is a Registered Community Organization (RCO) whose territory encompasses the proposed development site. While the group is not opposed to the development, they have argued that the final two variances are not necessary — that the proposed building is far too large for the area.

Much of the opposition comes from the fact that the building would be fully located within Frick Park. In addition to aesthetic concerns, the presence of such a large building may impact the ability for stormwater to run into Nine-Mile Run, a nearby creek that empties into the Monongahela. UpstreamPGH, the advocacy group that cleaned and restored the Nine-Mile Run watershed in 2006, has disputed the developer's claims that their plan would mitigate this. The group stated their full opposition to the plan in May.

The concern about the land’s ability to support such a large development extends beyond the natural environment. The development will be located on a tight bend along Forward Avenue (which becomes Commercial Road as it crosses into Swisshelm Park), a winding road with steep grades on either side. In 2020, vehicle access was limited from February to August due to a landslide that occurred below the driveway of Walnut Towers, another high-density apartment building on Forward Avenue.

Furthermore, Forward Ave./Commercial Road is also the main corridor of traffic connecting Swisshelm Park to Squirrel Hill. Residents of Swisshelm Park are concerned that the introduction of a high-density residence will increase traffic and accidents along the road. In opposition to this, the developers conducted a traffic study and claimed that there would be "no observable increase" in vehicle traffic.

Frick Park Friends is an advocacy group formed to oppose the project. The group is led by Swisshelm Park resident Geri Smith, who spoke against the development at the Aug. 3 hearing. The organization has collected a petition with over 2,700 signatures from residents against the development.

Sept. 14 was the final day for all involved parties to submit their arguments, after which the Zoning Board of Adjustments will return with a decision no later than Oct. 29.