Harlem Township residents packed the house during the Monday, Jan. 23, Harlem Township Board of Zoning Appeals public hearing for an application by Homewood Corporation seeking a conditional use permit in an area zoned AR-1 (Agricultural/Residential) on behalf of Rescue Me to build a 12,000-square-foot animal shelter and boarding kennel for dogs on 22 acres in Harlem Township.
Following several hours of testimony by township residents, that public hearing was adjourned, and reconvened on Monday, Feb. 20. During that meeting, members of the BZA had the option to deny the application, approve the application, or table the application for further discussion.
After members of the Board of Zoning Appeals spent two hours questioning representatives of Homewood Corporation, with no comments or questions allowed from the public; and by a 4-to-1 vote, the BZA approved Homewood’s application for a conditional use permit to build and operate the facility.
Homewood Corporation President Jim Lipnos, who spearheaded the application, said donor George Skestos is thrilled with the BZA granting the Conditional Use Permit.
“His passion for dogs is why he got involved with this project, and through this facility thousands of dogs will be saved from deplorable conditions and possible euthanization,” Lipnos said following the vote. “We believe that this building will be a landmark in Harlem Township of high-quality architecture, positive land-use, and serve the well-being of man and his best friend.”
Lipnos said while there was some vocal opposition, there was also a tremendous amount of support for the project from adjacent neighbors and residents from elsewhere in Harlem Township.
In a letter to the board, Andy Wecker, a local attorney working on behalf of some Harlem Township residents, addressed two key issues that opponents of the facility had concerns about:
• Whether a conditional use permit can apply the wording of the Delaware County model resolution on barking and howling dogs – even though the township as a whole has no noise ordinance.
One opponent of the shelter, Tom Nied, wrote after the vote that Lipnos admitted during questioning that the non-profit entity to which ownership of the property will be transferred has not been established because of a conflict over use of the name Rescue Me. Nied also said that the building plans now include a 4,000-square-foot accessory building not on the site plan submitted with the original application; and that the boundaries of the lot and the actual acreage covered by the conditional use permit would be different from the survey attached to the original application.
“The concerns that this facility will have, in part, a medical use which is prohibited in an Agricultural-Residential District, were largely ignored,” Nied wrote. “Concerns that the Homewood application was incomplete and misleading were also ignored,” Nied also said.
Neid said township residents have until March 21 at the latest to file suit in Delaware County Common Pleas Court to contest the decision of the BZA, and to block Harlem Zoning Inspector Jon Trainer from issuing a permit to Homewood Corporation.
Lipnos remains confident that the project would move forward in Harlem Township following the BZA decision.
“It’s through charitable projects such as this that make the world a better place, and we’re happy to be bringing this to Harlem Township,” Lipnos said. “We look forward to moving on to construction and hope to be open before the end of the year.”
Reporter Lenny C. Lepola can be reached at 614-266-6093.