In February 2019, following a sparsely attended public hearing, Bridgeville Borough Council approved a request to allow a pet cremation business to use 131 Washington Avenue as its physical headquarters.
Shortly afterward a handful of residents mounted a yearlong effort to reverse council’s approval. Citing health and safety concerns surrounding the cremation process—along with parking issues in Bridgeville’s north end—they sought to prevent Pittsburgh Pets at Home from incinerating carcasses in the mixed residential and commercial district.
After poring over zoning laws and permit applications, John Rattenni—the crematory’s most vocal opponent—discovered that Bridgeville failed to properly notify the public about the February 2019 hearing.
As a result, council held a second public hearing on Monday night, some 14 months after the original. This time, rather than voting 6-0 in favor of the crematory, council voted 7-0 in favor of the crematory.
The borough did not respond to an email asking for clarification on how exactly it fell short when notifying the public prior to last year’s hearing.
The bottom line, borough attorney Thomas McDermott said on Monday, is that Bridgeville’s code allows crematories in mixed-use areas, and council can not legally block a permitted business.
“Under the law, if [an applicant] meets all of the specific criteria for a use,” he said. “we are required to approve that, with reasonable conditions.”
Pittsburgh Pets at Home will actually be Bridgeville’s second crematory. Further up on Washington Avenue, Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation for been in business for years, with no complaints in recent memory.
For John Rattenni, council’s re-approval was a disappointing, but expected, conclusion to his year-long effort.
“I’m not some crazy neighbor who doesn’t want you playing in his yard,” Rattenni said after the meeting. “However based on my research, there are serious flaws in the Bridgeville zoning ordinance that I think endanger residents. The more I dug into this, the more concerned I became about the safety of my neighbors.”
Rattenni pointed out that some communities, like Collier Township, prohibit crematories within several hundred feet of residences. Other municipalities have no such restrictions. In Pittsburgh’s densely populated Lawrenceville neighborhood, a human crematory operates next to a barbershop and three restaurants, while a crematory in Ross Township is set back slightly from the two nearby houses.
The type of natural gas-powered incinerators used to cremates humans and animals are regulated by the Allegheny County Health Department and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. This DEP operating permit for an animal crematorium in Lancaster, Pa., for example, contains 26 pages of rules and regulations pertaining to such businesses.
However, Rattenni believes that the growth of the pet insurance industry and advances in veterinary medicine create risks that current regulations might not account for.
Before a human corpse is cremated, for example, the mortician must verify that the deceased does not have pacemakers in his or her chest. That’s because pacemakers can and do explode when exposed to the 1800°F heat of the crematory chamber.
Pacemakers are an increasingly common treatment for dogs with heart conditions. In an email to the borough, Rattenni raised the possibility of a pacemaker-related cremation incident in Bridgeville.
Rattenni also expressed concern that cremating pets with artificial joints and hips could release harmful emissions.
After human corpses are cremated, the metals that don’t melt, such as steel, titanium, and cobalt-chrome are often gathered for recycling. If you’ve been on an airplane in the past decade, there’s a chance the the engine turbine was built partly from a dead man’s joints.
Regarding parking concerns, it is widely acknowledged that the parking situation North Bridgeville is less than ideal. During Monday’s public hearing, former Mayor Pat DeBlasio Jr. said that parking is a larger, systemic issue in Bridgeville, rather than something than can be solved on a case-by-case basis.
At it stands, Pittsburgh Pets at Home meets Bridgeville’s requirement of at least three visitor spaces for the 700 square feet of the building that will be used to host clients and guests.
Council’s approval was granted on condition that Pittsburgh Pets at Home visitors don’t create parking overflow and that no separate businesses may operate on the property with an additional use permit.
You can watch the full public hearing below: