The mayor may be barking up the wrong tree with his plan to site a full-service Bronx animal shelter in the northeast Bronx.
At a Community Board 10 public hearing on Monday, June 18 that included a vote on the shelter’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, the Co-op City community came out in force to oppose the plan to build a 47,000 square foot facility on Bartow Avenue.
The hearing was at times charged with emotion.
A pro shelter group of animal rights advocates and a standing-room-only crowd of mostly opposed Co-op City residents squared off at the Bartow Community Center.
The board voted in favor of a resolution that supported the concept of the animal shelter in the borough, but not at the Co-op City location, with 23 votes in favor, and three abstaining in the advisory vote.
Matt Cruz, CB 10 district manager, said that the board felt the Co-op City location was a poor choice for several reasons, including the relative lack of accessibility, lack of subway line access, the fact that the cooperative doesn’t allow pets except for service dogs and because the community has wanted a youth center at the location for years.
“It sends a message that we are certainly not opposed to an animal shelter, but we are opposed to the Co-op City site,” said Cruz.
Cruz said that if the city had engaged the board in a discussion of community needs prior to the ULURP process, it would have been helpful and would perhaps had led to greater understanding of what the community needs and wants.
Councilman Andy King said he estimated that over 90 percent of the people attending the hearing opposed siting the animal shelter in Co-op City.
“The community clearly spoke. The residents who live in the area surrounding this shelter was proposed are opposed,” said King, adding “If Co-op City was supportive of it, it would make sense, but we have been asking for years to build other things at this location.”
King said the Co-op City residents are restricted when it comes to owning pets, and that putting an animal shelter in a community that is not 100 percent animal friendly is disrespectful to the community.
“We are going to have to go to a new drawing board, because that site doesn’t work for the residents of the community,” said the councilman.
Several local animal rights advocates spoke in favor of the proposal.
One of the founders of the Bronx Animal Shelter Endeavor, Dotti Poggi, who along with other BASE members had been advocating for a full-service shelter for years, said she doesn’t believe at the present time there is a current proposal for a youth center at that location – which was alluded to at this and a previous CB 10 committee meeting.
Poggi believes that a two-story shelter at 2050 Bartow Avenue would complement the adjacent Bay Plaza Mall with an appropriate use, and pointed out that the site is city-owned land that is not part of the Riverbay Corporation, which manages Co-op City.
Another BASE founding member who spoke at the hearing, Donna Dechiaro, said she was advocating for an animal shelter in the borough because it has been historically underserved and wants it to receive its fair share of municipal resources.
Assemblyman Michael Benedetto said that he had hoped there could be a dialogue with a more civil exchange of ideas with an open and free discussion of the issues, adding he was disturbed to hear of the disruptions at the hearing.
Benedetto said that he supports the Co-op City community’s desire not to have the facility where it is proposed, adding that while he favors an animal shelter in the borough, he thinks that there are better places to put it.
“The Zerega industrial business area would be one,” said Benedetto of possible alternatives. “It would be nearer to the subway and transportation and I think there is already an infrastructure available to support it.”
King said that possible alternatives included locating the shelter near an animal hospital or veterinary facility, or in industrial areas.
“I hope that the city reconsiders its plan and finds a place in the Bronx that’s better for everybody,” said Benedetto.
Supporters of the animal shelter mentioned that 556 service animals are already a part of the Co-op City community.
According to a presentation at the CB 10 hearing, the shelter is projected to create over 100 jobs, will have off-street parking and would be staffed seven days a week.
Plans include space for 70 dogs, 140 cats, 30 rabbits and 20 animals from other species, stated a NYC Department of Health spokeswoman.
“Bronx residents have wanted a full-service animal shelter for decades,” said the DOH spokeswoman in a statement. “The site on Bartow Avenue makes an ideal location for building a state-of-the-art animal shelter where Bronx residents and all New Yorkers will be able to adopt pets.”
The agency will work with residents and local elected officials to achieve the best possible outcome, the spokeswoman added.
The animal shelter proposal now goes to the Bronx borough president for his consideration.