Pittsburgh's East End residents growl at plan for new animal shelter

Neighbors against $15 million Animal Rescue League facility in Homewood

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After the last in a series of meetings with residents, a community group said Wednesday night that it will not endorse a plan to build a $15 million animal shelter in Homewood.

Jerome Jackson, executive director of Operation Better Block, said the group was asked by the city's economic development agency, the Urban Redevelopment Authority, to convene a series of meetings and solicit feedback on the nonprofit Animal Rescue League of Western Pennsylvania's proposal to build a 40,000-square-foot facility on a mostly unused four-acre block at North Dallas and Hamilton avenues.

"Basically our letter will say we have met with the community and the community does not support this," Mr. Jackson said, though he acknowledged after the sparsely attended meeting at the Homewood Carnegie Library that "some are speaking louder than others."

Most of the property in question is privately held, including a large warehouse building and five occupied homes that the Animal Rescue League is in the process of acquiring, executive director Dan Rossi said. Mr. Rossi said the city also needs to vacate an alleyway to make the project work.

The new facility would encompass an intake and adoption services center as well as a low-cost clinic, which treats animals for about one-third less than most veterinarians, he said.

It's a move down the street for the shelter, which is outgrowing its current location a few blocks away on Hamilton Avenue.

"We work with the community. We want the community to see this as an asset," Mr. Rossi said, adding that the league wanted to stay in the East End because of the need for its services there.

The shelter takes in about 10,000 animals a year and adopts out every healthy, suitable animal it can -- roughly 7,000 a year.

"It was just a natural fit for us," he said.

Not so, however, for most of the 10 people who turned up at Wednesday's meeting. Some neighbors have complained about the possibility of dogs running free or being walked in the neighborhood. Others want to see the property developed into affordable housing or businesses they say the blight-stricken community desperately needs. And some, like the Rev. William Fuller of Trinity Temple in Homewood, are upset that the Animal Rescue League didn't come to the community first.

"We're not saying we don't want projects," he said. "Just let us know about the projects. Don't let it be a surprise."

City Councilman Ricky Burgess, who represents the area and was at Wednesday's meeting, said he supports the project as long as it is an "engine" that could drive other development in the surrounding blocks.

Addressing fears that hungry developers have their sights set on transforming Homewood, Mr. Burgess cited his record advocating for affordable housing in the Hill District, Garfield and East Liberty and said that Homewood, where he grew up, will "always be primarily residential." He also offered the support of his office to help ensure that the Animal Welfare League development will be a benefit to the community.

"In order to rebuild it, it won't look the same as it looked years ago," Mr. Burgess said, adding that a $15 million project doesn't come along every day. "If the goal is to not have changes and have things stay the same, they'll stay the same. ... Whether you like it or not, they have a right by law to build on that lot."

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