uptown study

Twenty years ago, Mt. Lebanon commissioned a strategic plan for Uptown Washington Road. The resulting document, created by Cambridge, Massachusetts-based urban design firm Chan Krieger and RER Economic Consultants, remains among the most-often used plans on the municipal shelf today.

The plan called for some things that were built—Clearview Common and a new public safety center, for example (although the public safety building was constructed on Washington Road at Shady Drive East, not at Lebanon Avenue as suggested.) But the planners’ detail and understanding of the use and needs of the business district set their work apart as a great resource for land development over the next two decades.

Still, much has changed in the business district since then. Residential development at the northern gateway, although proposed by developers, hasn’t progressed. A new hotel has added vitality to the district, while restaurants have proliferated on Washington Road. It seems clear that Uptown needs an updated study.

In June, the Mt. Lebanon Commission, at the recommendation of a committee made up of members of the Mt. Lebanon Partnership, the planning board and business owners, as well as municipal planner Keith McGill and commercial districts manager Eric Milliron, approved a $14,090 Uptown Strategic Plan contract with Environmental Planning and Design, of Pittsburgh, the same firm that completed our most recent 10-year comprehensive plan to positive public reaction.

“I thought they did a fantastic job with the comprehensive plan,” said Commissioner Dave Brumfield. Commissioner John Bendel said he was pleased that EPD already was familiar with Uptown. EPD also has designed notable public spaces in Pittsburgh, including Grant Street and SouthSide Works.

The timeline is still being tweaked, but Milliron expects the report to be complete by the end of 2015. EPD will seek lots of public opinion in the form of surveys and public meetings. The completed report will include a vision statement, short- and long-term goals with a final presentation at a commission meeting later this year. Unlike the larger, more expensive Chan Krieger effort, this plan will not suggest how large parcels of land should be used. It will address some of Uptown’s capital needs, however.

Some of the issues Milliron expects to be covered include ideas for improving the staircase to the T station and Parse Way, the road that parallels the east side of Washington Road near the light rail transit station and is often the first thing people see after they depart the T station. “That is our port. That is our harbor,” Milliron says. “Parse Way is not a very attractive welcome mat. That really should be a gateway area, and it’s not.”

He also expects the plan to examine the street’s use of sidewalks and surrounding areas like planters, the fountain at Clearview Common and even the clock. “This is about details. We have a strong business district. We have ample parking. This is polishing the chrome.”

Photo by George Mendel