Controversial plans for a new intersection at Freeport Road and Eastern Avenue in Aspinwall to accommodate a riverfront development have apparently been scrapped in favor of a new plan to gain access to the site via the Highland Park Bridge.
An April 10 memo to Aspinwall council members from Trip Oliver, the chairman of the council planning and zoning committee, outlines a new plan in which the proposed Riverfront 47 development would access its 47 acres of riverfront property at the former AZCON scrap yard through a new connection with the Highland Park Bridge and Brilliant Avenue in Aspinwall and 19th Street in Sharpsburg. The site along the Allegheny River straddles parts of Aspinwall, O’Hara and Sharpsburg.
The idea stemmed from Aspinwall Councilman Mark Ellermeyer, who approached the state Department of Transportation and the development partners, led by Mosites Co.
Over the objections of hundreds of vocal residents during a meeting in February, Mosites asked for — and was granted — the backing of council to reallocate $1.2 million in state and county grant funds for the project, which would provide a link between Freeport Road, the Aspinwall Riverfront Park and a proposed mixed-use development adjoining the park.
According to the memo, Mosites has withdrawn its request for a connection with Eastern Avenue, which residents argued would exacerbate traffic on Freeport Road.
“Councilman Ellermeyer was instrumental in making a connection between Mosites and PennDOT to explore a possible third entrance to the R47 development near the Highland Park Bridge,” the memo said. “Councilman Ellermeyer and the planning committee strongly urged Mosites over the past several weeks to aggressively explore that option.
“After much discussion with Mosites regarding the likelihood of achieving a third primary access point to their development and concerns about the impact that the most recent designs showed an Eastern entrance having on the park, we advised Mosites to quickly evaluate the opportunity that a third entrance would mean to this development and acknowledge the eventuality that a Brilliant Avenue access point would ultimately be the preferred option. Today, as a result of our efforts, Mosites expedited this process and submitted a memo to council withdrawing its request that we reallocate the grant monies from Brilliant to Eastern.”
Mr. Ellermeyer said he first got the idea when meeting with PennDOT officials about their plans to expand Route 28 with additional lanes in both directions near the ramps to the Highland Park Bridge.
“I was advocating for the health and safety of Aspinwall,” he said. “I hope people would see that as a win for the town. I hope it will make everyone happy.”
Many of the opponents, who formed a group called Priority Aspinwall, planned to lobby council members tonight for a borough-wide survey of residents gauging support for the new intersection, which was initially slated to be built at Brilliant Avenue before the developers requested a change to accommodate the new development.
Group members said they were shocked by the latest developments.
“That Mosites and its most vocal supporter on council would take this sudden, dramatic about-face underscores the significant and undeniable impact of a committed group of residents who chose to stand up together, against the odds, for their families, neighbors and community and refused to let their voices be silenced,” said Lara Voytko, a member of Priority Aspinwall, who is also seeking a council seat in the May primary election.
“We applaud Mosites for respecting the widespread opposition to the R47 Aspinwall entrance proposals. We hope they will operate with the type of community minded spirit we can all rally around moving forward and that Council commits to respecting the will of the majority of the people of Aspinwall as this development process advances.”
For more details, see Friday’s Local Xtra edition. Janice Crompton: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1159 or on Twitter @janicecrompton.