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Homes in Summerset at Frick Park , blend old-time style, new urban amenities

Saturday, February 16, 2002

By Gretchen McKay

For decades, the towering hillside above Nine Mile Run between Squirrel Hill and Swisshelm Park was notable for just one thing -- the mountain of slag heaped on top. Local steel companies dumped more than 20 million tons of the molten steel byproduct there between the 1920s and the '70s, creating 20-story-tall spires amid a lunarlike landscape.

Four of the five model homes that will be open in the Summerset at Frick Park development next Sunday. From left: Village A; Cottages D and B; and Village B styles. Phase I will consist of 37 single-family homes ranging in price from about $200,000 to more than $500,000. As well as 12 cottage and 18 village homes, it will include seven estate homes and 21 upscale townhomes. (Darrell Sapp, Post-Gazette photos)

It might still look like that today if the city's Urban Redevelopment Authority hadn't purchased the 238-acre industrial dump in 1995, hoping to create an upscale urban housing development.

Nearly seven years and millions of dollars later, that ambitious dream has become reality. Next Sunday, the URA and four development partners will hold an open house featuring five model homes in Summerset at Frick Park.

Ultimately, the $243 million project will boast 710 single-family homes, townhomes and luxury apartments on 109 acres. The plan will be divided into three interconnected yet completely distinct neighborhoods, featuring common green spaces, trails connecting to Frick Park and access to the Nine Mile Run stream.

But that will take 10 years. Phase I, which is to be completed at the end of this year, will include 37 single-family homes ranging in price from about $200,000 to more than $500,000.

Toward the lower end are 12 "cottage" homes with 1,400 to 2,000 square feet and 18 "village" homes of 2,300 to 2,900 square feet.

There will also be seven "estate" homes ranging from 3,000 to more than 4,500 square feet and 21 luxury townhomes ranging from 1,400 to 2,500 square feet and costing up to $375,000. There are also monthly fees ranging from $45 to $140.

Want one? Get in line. Last February, a lottery was held to pick bidders from a waiting list of 500 for the first set of lots. As a result, the only homes that are still for sale are eight townhomes ranging in price from $249,000 to $384,800. But another lottery is planned for later this year.

Strong demand for Summerset has been vindication for city officials and Summerset Land Development Associates, a partnership of The Rubinoff Co., Montgomery & Rust, Penrose Falbo Associates and EQA Landmark Communities. Funded with a combination of private and public money, Summerset is Pittsburgh's biggest new housing development in decades and one of Pennsylvania's first New Traditional Neighborhoods.

Dave Foresman of Export, who works for Seighman Painting, applies a coat of paint in a shade of red called tomatillo to the den of a Cottage D home in Summerset at Frick Park.

"It shows we can compete with other projects in the region," said Rubinoff President Mark Schneider. "Not only will we keep people who are leaving the city because they want a new home but [we'll draw] new people who come to town and are looking for something new."

What's really new about Summerset is the "old" style it exudes. Drawing on the philosophy of New Urbanism, which strives to re-create the look and feel of close-knit, old-fashioned city neighborhoods, the development was inspired by the "streetcar communities" of Regent Square, Point Breeze and Squirrel Hill, said Schneider.

Built on dense lots with small, but professionally landscaped, front yards, most of the two- and three-story houses will feature traditional front porches with such classic touches as beadboard ceilings with paddle fans, and all will have two- or three-car garages tucked out of sight behind the house, off an alley.

In addition, the extra wide streets (there's room for two lanes of traffic and parking on both sides) will be connected by pedestrian-friendly sidewalks graced with maple, hawthorn and sycamore trees and street lamps.

There is also an abundance of green space. For instance, the focal point of Phase I, which is spread out over 27 acres, is Crescent Park, a village green roughly the size of a football field. It overlooks Nine Mile Run, which is being environmentally restored by the Army Corps of Engineers as a trout habitat.

Like Washington's Landing, a similar housing project Schneider helped develop on Herr's Island in the Allegheny River, Summerset is geared toward buyers who desire an urban setting but also want the convenience (and low maintenance) of a newly constructed house.

But unlike that 1996 development, which attracted mostly singles and baby boomers without children, Summerset is appealing to buyers from all walks of life.

Nearly half the bidders at last year's lottery were families with children even though the original market study indicated the development would appeal more to empty-nesters.

According to project manager Sally Pfaff, about half of the models will feature traditional floor plans, with formal dining and living rooms at the front of the house and all the bedrooms upstairs. The other half, like the $380,000 "Village A" model home, will boast first-floor master suites and such modern features as 23-foot cathedral ceilings. Every unit has a basement as well as a first-floor laundry.

The homes, which will be built in architectural styles such as Arts and Crafts, Tudor and Colonial, boast such old-time architectural details as hardwood floors, crown molding and 10-foot ceilings on the first floor; most also will have private aggregate or flagstone courtyards.

But the homes don't lack modern touches and technology. Every model includes a kitchen with center island, separate computer room, oversized walk-in closets, Kohler whirlpool tub in the master bath, Heat-N-Glo gas fireplace and Guardian home security system.

The exteriors feature Hardiplank siding (fiber cement siding that looks like wooden clapboard), top-of-the-line Carrier heating and cooling systems and Andersen high-performance windows with low-E glass. Every unit, in fact, will be 30 percent more energy efficient than typical new homes built in the area. In addition, all utilities will be strategically integrated into the landscaping behind the house so homeowners never have to see them.

Depending on how much they want to spend, homeowners can choose upgraded options ranging from special interior finishes to more luxurious kitchens and bathrooms. The kitchen in the $450,000, 3,400-square-foot red brick "Village B" model, for example, (decorated by Weisshouse) features black granite counters, maple cabinetry, built-in wine cooler and stainless steel appliances as well as hardwood floors.

There is also an antique mantel topped by a mirror from The Building Arts in the living room, which opens onto a covered side porch. Upgrades in the second-floor master bath include slate floors, a walk-in steam shower and a cherry vanity topped with a black Vanite countertop from Spain.

Across the street, the more traditional brick "Village C" model features elaborate crown molding, a study with built-in bookshelves, a kitchen with an adjoining great room and 3,200 square feet of living space. Price tag: $475,000.

Sally Pfaff looks at the woodwork on the fireplace in a Village B model home. Funded with a combination of private and public money. Summerset is one of Pennsylvania's first New Traditional Neighborhoods.

Part of the attraction of Summerset is its location. Just four miles from the Point, it's within easy commuting distance of Downtown, Oakland and Shadyside. The stores, restaurants and entertainment venues at The Waterfront in Homestead, Munhall and West Homestead are close by, and Squirrel Hill's upscale shops are less than 10 minutes away. The plan is also next door to one of the city's oldest attractions, the wooded trails and parklets of Frick Park.

As with many new housing projects, this one has had its share of obstacles. There were problems with vandals when workers started clearing the site in the summer of 1999, and community groups have complained about everything from increased traffic to the amount of public money involved. In addition to the cost of the land, the URA expects to shell out about $60 million in preparation costs.

Some neighbors have voiced fears about having to put up with 10 years of dirt, noise and bulldozers. Others have raised concerns about the environmental and health impacts of moving all that slag.

A few opponents simply didn't "get" it. "They couldn't understand why we wanted to build apartments next to $700,000 homes or even why we would put new construction in an old neighborhood," said Schneider.

But once the site was partially cleared and workers started framing in the model homes, many of those concerns evaporated.

"They could see it wasn't just hype but a great asset to the community," Schneider said. "They realized we weren't the [liars] they thought we were."

Which is good, because the project certainly hasn't been cheap. To date, the city has spent close to $10 million to clean up this giant "brownfield," grade the land, cover the slag with more than 122,000 tons of topsoil and install water and sewer lines. Developers have also rebuilt parts of Forward Avenue, which will serve as a main entrance to the development.

Though the first of Summerset's three phases emphasizes owner-occupied homes, there's good news for renters. Schneider said developers will start construction on 40 "mansion apartments" that will rent for between $1,350 and $2,800 a month sometime in March. That will be followed by a three-story, 48-unit apartment building early next year.

For those who would still like to buy, the developers are planning another lottery during the third quarter of this year for the second stage of Phase I -- eight cottages, 18 villages, nine estates and 20 townhomes. Construction will begin in early 2003.

Summerset at Frick Park will hold an open house, featuring five model homes in various stages of construction, from noon to 4 p.m. Feb. 24. Information: 412-231-1000 or http://www.summersetatfrickpark.com.


Gretchen McKay covers real estate and homes for the Post-Gazette.

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