HR&A Advisors Inc., a firm based in New York, was chosen from among nine bidders and will receive up to $109,000 to help the department outline its mission, direction, organizational structure and other items for the next three years. A $50,000 grant from The Heinz Endowments will be put toward the contract.
The department has roughly 50 employees split into five divisions — integrated planning; public history, art and design; strategic planning; sustainability and resilience; and zoning and development review. It is one of the most public-facing city departments and is responsible for land use within city limits.
The strategic plan, to be prepared within the next four months, will help orient the department as it prepares to award the contracts for creating the city’s first-ever comprehensive plan, a high-level document to guide development through 2050.
Planning in the city has historically been done at the neighborhood level, with plans recently completed for Uptown, Hazelwood and Oakland. The lack of a citywide plan was not lost on the mayor’s transition team, which wrote in a report issued last year that it has “allowed for decades of piecemeal decision-making driven by outside developer interests rather than community input.”
City officials have said in contract documents that they want to engage with residents across all 90 neighborhoods, gathering input about topics ranging from parks to stormwater management to transportation. The comprehensive planning process is expected to last several years.
The main way that the broad strokes of a comprehensive plan turn into reality is through changes to the zoning code, which was last overhauled in Pittsburgh in 1999. On the table could be changes to the number of housing units permitted on a property, known as upzoning; maximum building heights; the minimum required number of parking spaces; and more.
Council received a briefing last week on the comprehensive planning process, and planning department officials had previously told bidders that they expected to select the winning contractors by the end of this week.