Neighbors split on Animal Rescue League’s $15 million move in Homewood

The Animal Rescue League of Western Pennsylvania plans to build a new $15 million headquarters in Homewood. The move would be a major investment for the struggling neighborhood, but it's running into opposition from residents concerned about noise and smells, or unwilling to move to make way for the building.

The Rescue League, a nonprofit that offers shelter and veterinary care to cats, dogs and other animals, has its eyes on a 4-acre, mostly vacant block bordering the East Busway overpass on the southwest corner of Homewood. It has outgrown its building in Larimer, about two blocks from the new site, executive director Dan Rossi said.

Mr. Rossi has ambitious plans for the building. It would include two surgical rooms, advanced air circulation equipment and "cat colony" rooms to encourage socialization among cats, he said.

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"When we open, we'll be the most advanced, state-of-the-art animal facility in the United States," Mr. Rossi said.

Before opening, though, the Rescue League has obstacles to overcome. One of the residents of the block, Howard Jones, said he won't make way for the headquarters.

"I'm not planning on moving," said Mr. Jones, 82, who has been getting calls from the Rescue League for about a month. "I've been here 50 years, and I got nowhere to go except with one of my kids."

Another resident of the block, Joseph Harris, said he would sell his home. He's eager to get away from Homewood's violence, and he thinks the animal shelter would be good for the neighborhood's economy.

"I think putting a building like this in Homewood would raise the property values and bring other business," Mr. Harris said.

Other Homewood residents are concerned about the effect an animal shelter would have on the neighborhood. At a community meeting about two weeks ago, some said they were worried that the building would bring noise and smells, Mr. Rossi said.

In response, the Rescue League plans to put its offices and meeting rooms along the street to block noise from the animal shelters, which would face the East Busway.

"We're trying to be very responsible to the residents who live around there," Mr. Rossi said.

Other residents from the area around the lot said they wouldn't mind the animal shelter. Lance McCune, who lives a block away, said he wasn't concerned about noise or smells from the cats and dogs.

"There are so many cats around here, it doesn't matter," Mr. McCune said.

Donald Richards, who lives in nearby Point Breeze and walks by the lot often, looks forward to seeing a new structure there. "It'll probably look better than what it looks like now," he said.

Supporters of the plan say it could spur development in Homewood, which is marred by vacant lots and boarded-up buildings. City Councilman Ricky Burgess, whose district includes Homewood, imagines the building as an anchor for the neighborhood, creating demand for stores, restaurants and apartment buildings.

"You can't look at it as an isolated building. You have to look at it in its potential to redevelop a two- or three-block area," Mr. Burgess said.

The Rescue League plans to begin construction this summer and to open the building in late 2015 or early 2016, Mr. Rossi said.

It has only raised a small part of the $15 million, though, with its board of directors donating $1 million. It plans to gather the rest from pledges, local foundations and government grants, Mr. Rossi said. The organization's $3.8 million annual budget mostly comes from individual donations.

"It keeps me up at night," Mr. Rossi said of the fundraising, "but I think we'll be a success. There are plenty of animal lovers out in the city."

Unlike the Homewood lot, the Rescue League's Larimer location is surrounded by businesses. David Peterson, who lives a few blocks away, said he's noticed a smell from the animals, especially during hot weather.

Does it bother him? "Not exceedingly," he said.

Richard Webner: or 412-263-4903

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