Phipps Conservatory is submitting a proposal for the site of the former Irish Centre

Every few days, David Molina and his dog, Rudy, hike the trails of Squirrel Hill and Swisshelm Park.

“We run all over the Frick several times a week,” Molina said.

They often pass the former Irish Center on Forward Street, where Craft Development Group has proposed building a multi-story apartment complex, a project that has faced mixed reactions from community members.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Plans have been revealed to renovate the Irish Center in Squirrel Hill, turning it into an apartment building

But now, there is another option for the space, if Pittsburgh’s Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) decides to reject the four variances requested by Kraft needed to advance its project. The Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens sent a letter to the city of Pittsburgh, detailing its vision for the space: it would likely be the future home of the Homegrown program and grow plants and trees for their exhibits.

“I think it’s an excellent idea. It will fit well into the park and create a lot less traffic,” said Charlie Ferrin of Greenfield.

“Frick Park Friends is 100 percent supportive of the Phipps Institute purchasing that piece of land,” said Vicki Yan of Frick Park Friends, a group formed in opposition to plans to develop the property on the property.

Jahn said she appreciated Phipps’ desire to repurpose the Irish Center building, a former community hall, rather than demolish it.

“I think it’s a great way to preserve the history of this structure and then be as ‘green’ as possible. They’re going to do as much LEED re-engineering as possible,” Yan said.

Kraft has until September 14 to refute any arguments presented against their plans. The ZBA has 45 days from that date to make a final decision.

“I’m generally ambivalent about criticism of new housing development, especially in a city where mixed-use housing and affordable housing are certainly a priority,” Molina said. “I don’t know that (the Phipps property) will be accessible to the public, but it certainly will be an integral part of a civic institution that we value as a community.”

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