The sign outside Hosanna House's Sherwood Event Center in Wilkinsburg on the border with Forest Hills reminds drivers of the 15 mph speed limit and includes a simple request: "Please be a good neighbor."
But residents of Sherwood Road, a narrow residential street in Forest Hills that provides the only access to and from the center, say drivers often ignore the sign's request. Cars headed in both directions on the road go faster than the speed limit, they say, and bottom out on three road bumps along the way.
"For us, it's a safety issue," said Sylvia Shipp, who lives on Sherwood Road with her husband Michael Burke and their two children, ages 7 and 9. "People don't seem to be aware they're driving through a small, residential area."
Hosanna House, a nonprofit based in Wilkinsburg, purchased the property a decade ago to host a youth summer day camp. Before that, it was the site of the Parkway Cabana and Tennis Club.
But Hosanna House has also made the 14-acre center available to rent on weeknights and weekends for wedding receptions, parties and other events, prompting complaints about noise and traffic.
The issues have never been properly addressed, residents said, in part due to jurisdictional confusion. When drivers exit the parking lot of the center onto Sherwood Road, they leave one borough and enter the other. As a result, it isn't always clear where residents should take their concerns -- to Forest Hills officials or to Wilkinsburg officials.
The planned construction of a dek hockey rink this summer has exacerbated those concerns. In addition to fears that it will increase noise and traffic, residents point to the expansion of the center as evidence that it is increasingly geared more toward revenue-raising than nonprofit activity.
"Ever since we discovered that Wilkinsburg had approved a zoning variance for the hockey [rink] without our knowledge, [Sherwood area residents] have struggled to regain some control over the process and turn the project around," Jane Freund of Forest Hills said at a borough council meeting last week.
Leon Haynes, executive director of Hosanna House, contests the claims made by some Sherwood residents. He said even though $50,000 to $55,000 of income is generated through the center's rental fees, the money does not cover all of the expenses related to Hosanna House's nonprofit programming at that location.
About 40 outside events are scheduled to be held at the center this summer, Mr. Haynes said, with an average attendance of around 125 people. He said maybe one event each summer will include more than 300 people; Hosanna House has advertised the center as able to accommodate up to 500.
Mr. Haynes said the new hockey rink -- funded through a partnership between the Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation and Highmark to build 12 such rinks in and around Pittsburgh over the course of four years -- is intended to give kids in Wilkinsburg and surrounding communities access to an activity they generally would not experience. He said Hosanna House will help establish hockey leagues once the rink is up and running.
As for the concerns residents have regarding noise and traffic, Mr. Haynes said he has been working with community leaders from both Wilkinsburg and Forest Hills for years.
"You have a few neighbors that are really taking it to another level," Mr. Haynes said. "But I've been talking to leaders for seven years -- police chiefs, councilmen, mayors -- about how we're doing and what we're doing to improve."
Sherwood residents, however, said they continue to feel as though their concerns are not a factor in decisions made by Hosanna House.
Ms. Freund, who lives on a small, one-way offshoot of Sherwood, said no effort was made to inform members of the community about Hosanna House's most recent plans. A flier advertising a March 28 zoning variance hearing in Wilkinsburg was placed 6 feet high on a pole in the Sherwood property parking lot, she said. She also noted that the hearing was scheduled only after construction that had begun was halted because the project had not yet been officially approved.
Forest Hills Mayor Marty O'Malley said both Hosanna House and borough officials were caught unawares when Sherwood residents brought their concerns to council a few months ago. He said he thinks some of their frustration is legitimate, noting that because of the small size of Sherwood Road, "any increase in traffic has an appearance of being a lot of increase in traffic."
But Mr. O'Malley also said that while not everything has been perfect, he does not get the impression that Hosanna House is acting unethically or establishing the hockey rink for profit.
"There has been a very good climate of communication throughout this whole process," Mr. O'Malley said.
Devon Wood, a Forest Hills councilwoman, also said she thinks Hosanna House is trying to work collaboratively, taking part in a number of meetings with different council members and residents over the past few months. She said she hopes any renovations made to the organization's facilities do not negatively impact the community with regard to traffic or noise, and that the focus of the center remains on activities for underserved children.
John Clark, 58, lives on the hill behind the event center. He said he did not know about the hockey project until he was told about it by a neighbor. No effort has been made to mitigate construction conditions such as noise or dust, Mr. Clark said.
While he said he respects the work Hosanna House does, Mr. Clark said he has been disappointed with how the organization has handled communication with Forest Hills residents.
"It seems to me it should be a harmonious relationship," Mr. Clark said. "It's gotten worse and worse and worse."
Mr. Haynes said the residents' frustration with matters such as noise and traffic would have existed before Hosanna House bought the property, when the location was home to the Parkway Cabana and Tennis Club.
"We want to be the best neighbor we can be," Mr. Haynes said.
Tom McMillan, vice president of communications for the Penguins, said construction on the Sherwood rink likely will begin in late July with a grand opening in early September.
Gavan Gideon: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-4910.