Planning commission again rejects Citizens Bank plans for East Liberty branch

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The Pittsburgh Planning Commission this week voted unanimously against a proposal to tear down and replace Citizens Bank in East Liberty.

Citizens Bank – which opened a branch on the site in 2002 and then closed it in March 2020 – offered to demolish the existing structure and replace it with a new building better suited to their needs.

A former branch of Mellon Bank, the building at 6112 Penn Ave. was built in 1969 and 1970.

The building was nominated for historic designation, which was recommended by the Historic Review Board and the City Planning Commission. The city council, however, voted against the historic designation in July 2021.

The bank had already been denied a similar proposal to demolish and replace the structure last fall and returned to the Planning Commission with a revised plan.

They “love the location” but felt the existing two-storey structure – which is around five or six times the size of a typical Citizens Bank branch – did not suit their needs, said Michael Knipper, Executive Vice President of Citizens Bank.

He said the building had housed a bank since at least the 1940s and that Citizens hoped to continue operating a bank there in a new, smaller building.

Their plans call for a new 2,600 square foot one-story building on the site, said Bruce Bisbano, the project’s lead architect.

Planning commissioners and members of the public have expressed concern over the destruction of the existing building, which some see as a landmark for the East Liberty neighborhood.

“I understand this is not a historic building,” Commissioner Becky Mingo said, referring to the lack of an official historic designation. “It is still, however, an important building, an important structure and an important place.”

The proposal for a new building, she says, does not match the importance of the existing structure.

Efforts to include a nod to the existing building were not enough to appease those who wanted to see the existing structure remain intact.

A plan to use granite slabs salvaged from the existing building to create a wall along the parking lot was “particularly offensive,” said Brittany Reilly, who serves on the board of Preservation Pittsburgh and chairs the Pittsburgh Modern Committee.

The plan, she said, would “erase a unique, existing, quality building” and replace it with one that “does nothing to reflect Pittsburgh, its people or its history.”

Skip Schwab, assistant manager of East Liberty Development Inc., said he felt arguments about the bank’s history were no longer relevant after the city council denied historic designation. he thanked Citizens Bank and its development team for their willingness to work with the community to create “concessions” with their design.

“They’ve been, I think, very active and engaged with the wider community,” Schwab said.

In a presentation given to the Planning Commission, Citizens Bank said the building’s new design is “intended to be more engaging at pedestrian level” and to relate to the surrounding neighborhood through its use of glass and brick. .

Mingo, however, argued that the proposal’s request for an additional sidewalk cut would negatively impact pedestrians and cyclists.

Because of this — and concerns about the visuals and historic nature of the existing building — Mingo said she doesn’t believe the proposal “meets the criteria for approval.”

The committee voted unanimously to reject the project without prejudice, leaving the door open for Citizens Bank to rework its plans to present an updated proposal to the committee again.

Commissioners Jennifer Askey, Dina Blackwell and Sabina Deitrick were not present for the vote.

Julia Felton is editor of Tribune-Review. You can contact Julia by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

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