Uptown Place townhouses

Harry Funk/The Almanac

The Uptown Place project has lent a fresh look to Washington Road.

While it doesn’t exactly resemble the wide-open spaces of parts of Washington County, Mt. Lebanon continues to experience facets of growth.

“Despite being known as a mostly built-out community, we’ve had several residential and commercial projects occur over the last few years,” said Ian McMeans, municipal planner and assistant manager, during a recent Mt. Lebanon Commission discussion session.

“There are pockets of opportunity out there, which is a very good sign for the overall health of the community, that there is still interest from the development sector in building or rebuilding in Mt. Lebanon,” he told commissioners.

McMeans proceeded to give an overview of developments of the recent past, present and possibly future, providing information about the financial impact of projects that have reached completion or are in progress.

According to McMeans, such projects add $150,000 to municipal coffers in property transfer taxes, and $8 million in increases to the assessed values of the properties involved result in some $37,000 more in real estate tax revenue increases. That number could rise substantially, he said, when Allegheny County announces adjusted assessed values for 2020.

The highest-impact local project of late has been St. Clair Hospital’s construction of a new ambulatory care center, with the site basically split in half between Mt. Lebanon and Scott Township.

“The solicitors worked through a tax agreement between the two municipalities for the project. The building will be partially taxable because there will be office spaces within the building,” McMeans said.

The care center, which will feature interior parking, is intended to bring a greater number of the hospital’s services under one roof.

“In total, this project is well over $100 million, which is a great sign for the health and desirability of the community, that our largest employer is looking to expand its services within the community,” McMeans said. “This project probably could have been a lot easier if they would have constructed it in a different area, but they chose to do it here.”

Recent residential projects include:

  • Summit, a Charter Homes & Neighborhoods development off Country Club Drive, with 11 upscale single-family residences;
  • Briarwood, by Costa Homebuilders, featuring 12 residences priced in the neighborhood of $500,000;
  • Dorchester of Mt.Lebanon Senior Apartments, off McNeilly Road, which has 60 units and is administered by Allegheny County Housing Authority;
  • Uptown Place, five townhouses along Washington Road on what previously had been three residential properties.

“They were presold almost immediately,” McMeans said about the townhouses. “The sale value on them was in the neighborhood of $650,000 on average per unit.”

He also discussed several projects that could be on the horizon, including Mt. Lebanon’s long-anticipated transit-oriented development. The municipality purchased the air rights above the Port Authority light-rail system in 1980.

Much more recently, the area around the local light-rail station has been the subject of various studies, including two that provided a rough idea of financial considerations.

“The conservation construction price tag for the project, because you’re literally building on air above an active rail line, was about $36 million,” McMeans said. “The market study that we did in 2014 identified a $22 million gap in the project.”

An engineering study concluded construction is structurally feasible.

Also in 2014, the municipality issued a request for proposals regarding two proposed methods of developing the area: low-density, which would focus on residential construction along Shady Avenue East, and high-density, the above-the-rails option.

Just one response was received, and only for the low-density option. At that point, Mt. Lebanon Economic Development Council recommended not pursuing the issue for the time being.

“They really wanted to leave the potential high-density option on the table, and because of how the site is located, if the low-density option is constructed, there would be no feasible way to actually go in later and construct the high-density option above the rail lines,” McMeans said. “That would essentially make the high-density option null and void, and then our air rights would be essentially useless.”

The Congress of Neighboring Communities – known as CONNECT, with the mission of coordinating activities among the city of Pittsburgh and its neighboring municipalities – recently brought in a nationally recognized transit-oriented development consulting firm that focused partially on Mt. Lebanon.

“The feedback we’ve heard, mostly, is that developers love our community. They would love an opportunity. But we have probably the most difficult transit-oriented site to develop,” McMeans said, compared with neighboring Castle Shannon and Dormont.

He said Mt. Lebanon will continue to evaluate potential transit-oriented developments in other communities and pursue funding opportunities, and that part of the multimillion-dollar Vibrant Uptown project involves reinvigorating the area near the light-rail station.

Multimedia Reporter

Staff writer Harry Funk, a professional journalist for three-plus decades, has been on the staff of The Almanac since 2015. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and master of business administration, both from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

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