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Support Growing for Developer Steven Beemsterboer's Vision
of Eco-Hotel Atop Mt. Washington in Pennsylvania

By Chris Togneri, The Pittsburgh Tribune-ReviewMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Jun. 19, 2009--A long-vacant, crumbling eyesore atop Mt. Washington soon could be replaced by an eco-friendly hotel and condominium complex.

Developer Steven Beemsterboer intends to raze the former Edge Restaurant -- which sits next to the Monongahela Incline and is visible from Downtown and the South Side -- and build a 110-room hotel on Grandview Avenue with 50 condominiums on the hillsides below.

Though the project will require the site to be rezoned because it would be taller than current regulations allow, support is growing.

"It's good for the neighborhood and for the city of Pittsburgh," said Councilwoman Theresa Smith, who represents Mt. Washington. "I am in total support of the project."

About 45 people at a Mt. Washington Community Development Corp. meeting Thursday night voiced support for the project. After hearing an update on the proposal, Beemsterboer and Downtown architect Luke Desmone were roundly applauded.

"When's groundbreaking?" shouted Mt. Washington resident Sandy Fundy.

In August and September of last year, CDC members twice voted unanimously in support of the project, 53-0 and 46-0.

Desmone came up with the plan in 2002. While driving to his office on the Parkway East from his Regent Square home, Desmone would see the building -- now empty for 30 years -- and think, "something has got to happen up there."

"Then one day I was in JFK airport," he said. "The design came to me and I wrote it down on a cocktail napkin."

His design calls for a LEED-certfied hotel that slopes downward, west to east, from a 20-story tower. A large public plaza would sit on the Downtown side.

Condos designed to resemble coastal Italian villas would be built into the hillside below the hotel and plaza. Residents would park in an underground garage, with up to 450 spaces, and enter their homes through the back. A public walking trail would encircle the project, and in a second phase of construction, a "Grand Staircase" would lead from Station Square to Grandview.

At one time, the plans infringed on a piece of the Grandview Scenic Byway Park. When residents protested, Desmone scaled back the project by cutting 10 condos. And when other residents expressed concern over the size of the hotel, he made it smaller, cutting 30 rooms.

"The developer has listened to the citizens' concerns and addressed every one of them," said Chris Beichner, executive director of Mt. Washington Community Development Corp. "Mt. Washington needs this."

Height issues might be a more difficult issue to sidestep.

Neighboring buildings are 10- and 12-stories high. Desmone wants to build much taller.

But he believes the Planning Commission and City Council will approve the plans because the building is sloped and "averages 10 stories, which is in keeping with what would be allowed," Desmone said.

Smith hinted that she would support a variance: "Some details have not been confirmed, but we will work with the developer."

Beichner said the development would attract $80 million in investment, create more than 1,300 permanent jobs, and boost property tax revenues by nearly $6 million over 10 years.

Beemsterboer said he will submit project plans to the city zoning administrator within the next 30 days. A public hearing before the Planning Commission would follow. Desmone said they are "in conversation" with a potential hotel operator.


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