Animal Shelter Plans Concern Neighbors

The Humane Society of South Mississippi is moving forward with plans for a spacious new shelter near downtown Gulfport.

But there is opposition.

Some neighbors worry the new shelter could have a negative impact on their businesses.  They worry about unwanted noise and offensive odors from the new shelter.

The question is whether the project is appropriate for this neighborhood. City Council members unanimously approved the necessary rezoning to allow the project.

But neighbors are challenging that rezoning decision.

"Let me just take you in and show you around five minutes," said  Humane Society board member, Eric Aschaffenburg, as he turned a key in the vacant building.

He shared his vision for the now shuttered warehouse property.

"If you can envision an absolute new building. All we're doing is using the bones. We're going to use the foundation. We're going to use the metal structure," he explained.

Aschaffenburg promises the conversion of the vacant property will be a shining example of urban renewal, and something Gulfport will be proud of.

"This is going to be something that's going to be beautiful on Highway 49 in an area where there's increasing lack of people moving in. And we're going to be the opposite to that. We hope to start something in this area. And we're going to be a great neighbor," he said.

That's not what Willie Williams envisions. He owns the property and building next door, that most recently housed a seafood business.

"Sure it'll have a negative impact on the property. No one will want to lease the building because who wants to be next door to the Humane Society, the fancy name they use. It's a dog pound. Animals are going to smell," said Williams.

The owner of a nearby restaurant is also concerned about plans for the animal shelter. "Sho Ya" restaurant has been open for eight years at the Highway 49 location.

Owners worry most about the possible noise and odors from the shelter.

"People don't want to come out and eat and step out of their car and smell something not so nice," said Genette Thompson.

Thompson's mother, and co owner of the restaurant, echoes those concerns.

"The lady came over and told us it won't smell and won't make noise because it's a high tech building. But, eventually I feel kind of a little nervous about, you might hear or you might smell. We don't know for sure," said Mariko Thompson.

Eric Aschaffenburg says modern shelters virtually eliminate the problems of noise and odors with things like glass enclosed pens for the animals, air conditioning and improved ventilation.

As for the neighbors, they've filed an appeal of the rezoning in circuit court.

A hearing date has not been set.