On Wednesday, May 17th (6:30pm – 8:00pm) at the Children’s Institute (1405 Shady Ave.), the Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition and Greenfield Community Association will host a public meeting for the community to learn more about Keystone Relief Centers’ proposed medical marijuana dispensary at 3885 Forward Avenue, a Buncher Property. Because Medical marijuana is a new use in Pennsylvania, the site must have a Special Use Exception zoning permit from the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustments (ZBA) before it can proceed.

Councilman Corey O’Connor, representatives from Keystone Relief Centers, and Board members from SHUC and GCA will be on hand to discuss what this ZBA special use exception would mean at this gateway corner into our two communities. The public meeting on May 17th will give the community an opportunity to make comments and give feedback to our two community organizations as they consider their recommendations to the Zoning Board.

Keystone’s plans for Squirrel Hill site include having it serve as their primary dispensary with two satellite facilities planned in Butler and Washington counties. On February 14, 2017, they signed a lease with Buncher Company. They plan to rehabilitate the existing building on Forward, and add trees and a throughway for pedestrians and bicyclists.

Background and Information about the District and The Squirrel Hill Neighborhood

The following presents background and information about the district and neighborhood in which the proposed medical marijuana dispensary is located. The information does not address the merits of the proposed development or the request for zoning change.

2009, “A Gateway to Squirrel Hill” Plan:
• The Buncher property is located in Squirrel Hill’s Gateway District. Public space improvements for the Gateway District were identified in the 2009 “A Gateway to Squirrel Hill” Plan and many of these improvements have been implemented
• The vision of the 2009 Gateway Plan was “To produce a comprehensive design that creates a welcoming and engaging entrance corridor for visitors and residents coming from the Parkway into Squirrel Hill”
• Specific ideas mentioned in the 2009 report were: Squirrel Hill entry sign, landscaping, way finding signs, improved pedestrian crossings including a dedicated pedestrian crossing at the intersection, traffic calming, gardens, parklets, plazas, street lighting and decorative lighting, murals, transit improvements, business façade improvements, storm water mitigation, etc.
• In addition, as part of preparing the Gateway Plan, there was identified a need for a new regional pedestrian-bike trail to come through this area. Interest in this proposal was reinforced in public comments as part of the CMU graduate design student-led visioning project for the Gateway area, that was conducted in 2014, and support from the SHUC Pedestrian-Bicycle Committee

1990, Squirrel Hill Master Plan:
• The 1990 Squirrel Hill Master Plan called for diligent attention to the quality of the neighborhood, guided by a broad panoply of public input, in maintaining Squirrel Hill as an excellent neighborhood
• The 1990 Master Plan and its follow-on community planning and development efforts have been very successful, having suggested the Summerset at Frick Park development idea as well as two dozen other significant neighborhood improvements that have occurred over the years
• The 1990 Master Plan identified the Forward-Murray Portal, now called the Gateway District, as an area where much-needed economic development should occur
• In addition to highlighting the importance of the (now-called) Gateway District, the 1990 Master Plan suggested increased densities throughout the business district that would go along with parking, increased residential development, and provision of amenities such as landscaping, parklets and plazas. This would facilitate development in areas where there is existing parking as well as robust transit service
• Squirrel Hill should emphasize itself as a pedestrian scale neighborhood that accommodates all modes of transportation including automobiles, bicycles, walking and parking

Development at the Buncher site:
• The Buncher property is located within an official city redevelopment district Zone that has been adopted by the URA and the city planning commission
• SHUC is interested in having development occur in the Gateway District. Development is already happening. Groundbreaking for the Action Housing / JRS development at the former Poli’s site should occur soon, and new, market-rate residential condos will be going in at the former Hirsch funeral home site
• Regarding being a pedestrian scale neighborhood, SHUC is asking that, for any project that takes place at the Buncher site, there must be implementation of a currently missing transportation component. This would be to complete a stretch of sidewalk that is now missing, along the north face of Beechwood Blvd through the site. This will provide a major Americans with Disabilities Act improvement, and also is a component of the major regional trail piece that may one day connect lower Squirrel Hill and all of Greenfield to the existing regional and national trail systems

If you are unable to make the May 17th public meeting or would like to share your feedback privately, please submit your comments or questions to us at info@shuc.org before May 23rd for Board considerations.

For more on Keystone Relief Centers and their application process, see the stories reported in Post Gazette article, dated May 5, 2017 or The Incline, dated May 3, 2017