Northampton kennel plans meet resistance, again

NORTHAMPTON — The city has chosen another site in its persistent effort to create a facility that temporarily houses lost pets, but planners are running into the same resistance on Cooke Avenue that they did last year on Chapel Street and on Glendale Road in 2019.

The City Council on Thursday night will hold its first reading of an order to buy the former Moose Lodge at 196 Cooke Ave. for $100,000 with the goal of demolishing it and building a small, police-run animal control facility where pets could stay until they are reunited with their owners or transferred to shelters.

The facility would not be commercial or open to the public. The project includes “limited parking to serve the adjacent Broad Brook-Fitzgerald Lake Greenway,” according to the order before the council.

“The building is in bad shape. It’s definitely coming down, even if we aren’t the ones who buy it,” Wayne Feiden, the city’s planning and sustainability director, said on Tuesday.

Neighborhood residents are working to convince city officials to find another site. Their complaints mirror some of those raised by neighborhoods that the city considered in the past, including a worry about excessive noise from frightened, barking dogs and a preference for a different use for the $795,000 appropriated for the kennel by the City Council to date, such as affordable housing.

“I really think the city needs to respect the concerns of the neighborhood and look for a different location. Period,” Christine Clark, who lives at the abutting Pines Edge condo complex, said. “How sad is that? We shouldn’t have to fight so hard for what’s right.”

Feiden said the city has wanted an animal control facility since at least 1985, when Mayor David Musante proposed using part of the Northampton State Hospital.

“If your dog runs away, and the city gets it, we will take them to the police department so you can pick them up,” Feiden said. “They’re storing cats in the police department. If a dog runs away from somebody, it’s stored in the basement” for up to a few hours before an animal control officer will drive the dog to another local facility, usually in Amherst or Hadley.

“We have a better duty of care to our animals than that,” Feiden said.

Noise among top concerns

In a letter notifying abutters of a Feb. 12 meeting in the old Moose Lodge parking lot, planners said the new building’s footprint would be “significantly smaller than the Moose Lodge building or any potential residential use.” The letter asks for residents to share concerns and any ideas about the eventual design.

“The noise was probably the biggest thing we heard” on Saturday, Feiden said. “We’re going to put in all the sound-deadening features. This will be a well-designed place to deaden sound.”

He said Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra has committed funding to ensure noise abatement, and that if the noise level will not meet the city’s environmental performance standards for buildings, “We can’t build.”

He added that the planned capacity is eight dogs, although two dogs are more likely on a typical night, plus an undetermined number of cats and other animals such as pet ferrets. The design phase would only begin after the City Council approves the purchase.

According to a noise review provided to the city by Berkshire Design Group, the sound inside the kennel with a “chorus” of dogs barking could be as loud as 122 decibels, comparable to a chainsaw. But the review estimated that “a sound reduction of 48% is obtained at a distance of 250 feet (approximate distance to nearby homes)” and that “building construction and distance as well as earth berms and noise abatement can all be effective means of reducing the noise from an animal control facility” even further.

Feiden said the new building will not go in the same place on the lot as the Moose Lodge. The plan is to get it as far away from existing housing as possible without disturbing nearby wetlands.

‘The tip of the iceberg’

Clark, the Pines Edge condo resident, said she moved to the neighborhood six years ago “because it was dark and quiet and lovely.” Now, she said, her realtor has encouraged her to sell the condo because of an expected depreciation in value if the animal control facility is built.

“Barriers, berms? The dogs are still going to bark, and my dog will answer. The dogs in the complex will answer, so we’re going to have a lot of dogs barking,” Clark said, adding that she would “gladly welcome” a house of worship at the site.

“I can take singing and chiming (bells) on a Sunday,” Clark said.

Patricia Maynard, also of the Pines Edge condos, said the neighbors have “exactly the same” reservations about the plan that were expressed about previously proposed sites, including noise, smell and waste management.

But those issues, she said, and the potential impacts on the conservation area, are “probably just the tip of the iceberg.”

“People were concerned that it just seemed like an awful lot of money for a small amount of dogs,” Maynard said, and assurances about sound-deadening are “not really” comforting.

Wildlife like bears, deer and foxes are known to roam the area, potentially creating hazards for any stray animals that are kept in enclosed spaces outdoors, Maynard said, but Feiden said that animals would only be let outside briefly in the presence of the animal control officer.

Tracey Culver, a lifelong Northampton resident who does not live nearby but attended Saturday’s meeting as a “concerned taxpayer,” told the Gazette that it’s reasonable to worry about physical and mental health effects caused by excessive noise.

“Even with the addition of a sound wall, the noise outside the building would be 90 decibels, which is the noise associated with leaf blowers and lawnmowers,” Culver said, “and nobody wants that 300 feet from their bedroom.”

She said she witnessed an “ironic” trend at Saturday’s meeting: several people drove up to the old Moose Lodge parking lot and let their dogs out with no leashes. Clark added that the parking lot is often “jam-packed” with people accessing the trails, and she counted 21 cars in the lot on a recent weekend, far more than the handful of dedicated parking spaces included in the city’s plan.

“Say they actually do need the facility. It’s just the wrong place for it,” Culver said.

Neighbors have suggested finding a spot at Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School or the DPW’s Locust Street transfer station.

Feiden said opponents of the project have “raised a lot of totally legitimate issues, which we totally agree with. … We think we can address those issues.”

Brian Steele can be reached at

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