Ready to grow

Ready to grow

Only 10 years old, the Rite Aid building in Squirrel Hill may be expanded by two floors if the developer receives approval from the City of Pittsburgh.

Advocates of the project laid out their plans March 8 at a town meeting sponsored by the Commercial Land Use Committee of the Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition (SHUC) at the Jewish Community Center in Squirrel Hill.

The committee has voted to support the addition, albeit with a number of conditions. The SHUC board will consider the proposal at its March 13 meeting.

But while the project met with approval from several residents at the meeting, others were not so happy about the proposed expansion.

The building needs to be expanded to accommodate its two main tenants — high-tech companies MultiModal Technologies and Vivissimo — according to Jonathan Kamin, the attorney for the developer.

“[These companies] have quickly become a vibrant part of Squirrel Hill,” Kamin said. “They only wanted to be in Squirrel Hill.”

Wayne Zukin, co-owner of the Rite Aid building, endorsed the expansion.

“These are Pittsburgh-based companies,” he said of the two tenants. “They want to stay here, [but] they’re bursting at the seams.”

The addition will fit in nicely with its surroundings and be constructed in a way that is not “onerous” to people living and working nearby, Zukin added.

He called the project “an enhancement for the neighborhood and building.”

Robert Indovina of Indovina Associates Architects in Shadyside, the architect for the project, said the additional two floors would add 27,000 square feet to the building and raise its height to 60 feet from its current 40.

The additional floors would be set back from the sides of the building, Indovina said, making the expansion “much less of an imposition on Forbes and Murray.”

The addition would also be made of light-colored metal panels, he noted. It would include a sun deck on the third floor and be “green” construction.

Addressing the issue of the shadow a larger building would cast, Indovina said any additional shadow would be negligible, occurring briefly in the morning in January and February.

The audience’s reaction to the proposed addition was mixed. Some attendees supported it, believing it wouldn’t harm the character of the neighborhood. SHUC President Ray Baum said there are “pluses and minuses” to the expansion. “The pluses obviously include more shoppers and business traffic.”

Jewish Community Center President and CEO Brian Schreiber said his agency is “generally satisfied” with the proposal.

“This group has done a lot more due diligence” than the original developer, Schreiber said. “It will create a little more shadow, but that’s minor relative to the benefits to the entire community.”

But others at the meeting expressed concerns about the addition’s effect on traffic, impact on the character of the neighborhood and the possibility it would set a bad precedent for other property owners in Squirrel Hill who may now consider adding floors.

“I’m concerned by the height. Two floors will overwhelm the intersection,” Squirrel Hill resident Dr. Beverly Steinfeld said.

It would be better for the neighborhood, Steinfeld suggested, if Zukin purchased and redeveloped the vacant Barnes and Noble building to accommodate his tenants.

Zukin is scheduled to present his request for three zoning variances before the Pittsburgh Zoning Board of Adjustment March 15.

(Ron Kaplan can be reached at