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Oakland Community Group Says Walnut Capital's Development Plans On Halket Street Are 'Wholesale Destruction'

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- Battle lines are forming over a proposed development that would transform part of Oakland — for better or worse.

Walnut Capital's Todd Reidbord has a vision for Pittsburgh's Oakland neighborhood. First, tear down 20 houses on Halket Street and level a now-vacant hotel. Second, replace them with a grocery store and new buildings to house 300 to 400 new apartments, restaurants and offices to house and cater to Oakland's professionals rather than students who rent here.

"For our city to be prosperous and grow and have the great infrastructure, amenities and cultural things we need, we need more people in Pittsburgh and I think that is one of the great goals that we have. I think most of the people in our region understand that, but they're always a few who haven't come along with that yet," Reidbord said.

Those opponents call it gentrification — or worse.

"I think it goes beyond gentrification in a lot of ways. It's wholesale destruction," said Wanda Wilson of the Oakland Planning and Development Corporation.

Wilson said the plan calls for the unnecessary destruction of dozens of houses that could be preserved and restored. But she said it's being fast-tracked without community input.

"That block is a set of houses that have been part of our community. It's the neighborhood fabric of the Oakland community. We don't see any reason why all that has to be destroyed. It's not a proposal the Oakland community supports," Wilson said.

The project requires a zoning change, and the community group went to Pittsburgh City Council on Tuesday to ask the council members to deny it. The group is currently working with the Department of City Planning on a master plan for development in Oakland, and Wilson wants all project approvals to be delayed until that plan is completed in the spring.

But Luciano Sciulli of Sciulli's Pizza doesn't see the need for the delay. He said business was hurt when students disappeared during COVID-19 and the neighborhood sorely needs the new residents the development would bring.

"The faster we do it, the faster it gets done and the faster more residents will live in Oakland," he said.

Reidbord and Walnut Capital said they welcome community engagement, but Oakland Planning wants this all put on hold until they have a comprehensive vision of the neighborhood.

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