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Judge rules for developer in Oakland hospital plan

by Ben Semmes
Pittsburgh Business Times
February 15, 2007

A judge has ruled in favor of a local developer and health care provider who hope to build an 80-bed specialty hospital in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood, the first new hospital proposed in the city in decades.

Uptown-based The Elmhurst Group, the project’s developer, and Mechanicsburg-based Select Medical Corp., the hospital’s proposed operator, had appealed a decision by the City of Pittsburgh Historic Review Commission rejecting their proposal for an eight-story hospital in the parking lot of the First Baptist Church, near the intersection of Bigelow Boulevard and Bayard Street in Oakland.

The Elmhurst Group’s plan calls for Select Medical Corp. to run the hospital — to be called Schenley Place — as a long-term, acute-care center that would receive patients from the city’s trauma and tertiary care hospitals.

The six-page decision, issued by Allegheny County Common Pleas Court Judge Joseph James on Wednesday, is a stinging defeat for the Historic Review Commission, which twice ruled against the proposal, citing concerns about the size and height of the building.

Bill Hunt, president of The Elmhurst Group, said he is planning to proceed with a plan for an eight-story building, which was presented to and rejected by the Historic Review Commission in the beginning of October.

“Our sense is that it was the right decision,” Hunt said. “We have every intention now to move forward. It does shows that we were right from the beginning.”

The next step, Hunt said, is to bring the project before the city’s Planning Commission.

Jeffrey Ackerman, executive vice president at Downtown-based CB Richard Ellis/Pittsburgh and broker for Select Medical, was not immediately available for comment.

Judge James’ ruling is not his first against the Historic Review Commission’s decision to reject the project.

In July, the Historic Review Commission voted 5-2 rejecting the initial proposal for a 10-story, 140,000-square-foot building after a public hearing where some residents from the bordering historic neighborhood Schenley Farms complained about the size of the proposed building.
In response to an appeal by Elmhurst, Judge James overturned the decision and ordered a rehearing, based on a lack of documented public testimony, according to Wednesday’s ruling.

At the rehearing in October, the Historic Review Commission again rejected the plan, splitting the votes 3-3, this time for an eight-story structure with a 10-foot set-back from nearby Ruskin Hall, with one member abstaining.

Opposing members said at the time they would be amenable to a six-story structure, which would match the roof-line of the First Baptist Church, and a larger set-back.

According to Wednesday’s ruling, the Historic Review Commission’s second decision was overturned because, Judge James wrote, “the height and set-back of structures is specifically governed by the Zoning Code of Pittsburgh” not the Historic Review Commission.

Edward Kabala, a vocal opponent of the project and resident of Schenley Farms, was not immediately available for comment.

Cleda Klingensmith, a representative of the Historic Review Commission, did not immediately return a call requesting comment. | (412) 208-3829

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