These 19 vacant parcels located between Frankstown Avenue and Kelly Street would need to be rezoned to allow Giant Eagle to build a GetGo on Fifth Avenue in Homewood. Photo courtesy of Giant Eagle.

Leonard Carter is wondering why he ever moved back to Pittsburgh.

The Homewood native left for college but came back to help care for his ailing aunt, who lived in the downstairs apartment in the house where he was raised.

He stayed in Pittsburgh, living in his family’s house on Kelly Street in Homewood and teaching music and coaching football for 40 years in Pittsburgh Public Schools.

Last year, a developer who was considering building an apartment building on Kelly Street told Carter that Giant Eagle wanted to build one of its GetGo gas stations and convenience stores directly across the street from Carter’s house. 

This year, the company started the process to get the zoning changed to allow it to build the GetGo in Homewood.

Carter has spent the last 15 years renovating his home: He converted it from a two-family property to a single-family residence. He put in a new kitchen and knocked down walls so that the stairs are open to the living room. There are new floors and there’s a new laundry room. It’s a neat and comfortable place to spend an afternoon watching college football after picking up dinner at Showcase Barbeque from a block away, as he was doing on a recent Saturday in September.

Leonard Carter’s house on Kelly Street could soon be across from a GetGo gas station and convenience store. Photo by Ann Belser.

But with a GetGo across the street, Carter foresees that the noise, bright lights and trash will ruin the oasis he has spent $175,000 creating.

“I’m a product of the Pittsburgh Public Schools and I made sure to work in the Pittsburgh Public Schools,” he said. “This is my home. This is my community, and I stayed here. And this is the reward I get.”

Carter’s City Council representative, the Rev. Ricky Burgess, D-Point Breeze North, is supportive of the zoning change.

“With development, there is always both fear and sometimes some inconvenience,” Burgess said during a Sept. 7 public hearing on the zoning change. “For the last 20 years, I’ve been advocating for a grocery store in Homewood. I’ve been talking to Giant Eagle for the last about 10 years specifically and we’re thrilled that finally one of the concepts makes sense for Homewood. And so it has had my support from the beginning and will continue to have my support.”

On June 27, the City Planning Commission recommended a zoning change for the lot across the street from Carter’s home to allow Giant Eagle to build the GetGo. The issue was sent out of committee with a positive recommendation and was approved by the City Council on Sept. 26. Then it has to be approved by the mayor.

The gas pumps will be along Fifth Avenue and the store, selling some groceries, snacks and with a planned beer cave, will be directly across from Carter’s home.

In advocating for the GetGo, the company’s attorney, Kevin McKeegan, noted, “The Homewood plan clearly called for more food opportunities in the neighborhood and this project is really designed to help address that community need.”

Carter agrees that the neighborhood could use such a store, just not in an area that has residential zoning with residents across the street.

During the Planning Commission meeting, Shawn Carter, an aide to Councilman Burgess, said, “Personally, we would have preferred a 24/7 GetGo, but I think you have to be somewhat concerned of the concerns of the people who live closest to it.”

He said there has to be a balance between what neighbors want and what the neighborhood needs.

“There will be some residents, unfortunately, who are still upset about it,” Shawn Carter said. “That is often one of the tradeoffs we make. But that site was going to sit there in its present condition for perhaps another decade.”

LaShawn Burton-Faulk, the Planning Commission’s new chairperson, said Giant Eagle does not need to meet with community members to receive approval for the gas station and convenience store, but encouraged the company to work with Leonard Carter to minimize its impact.

Ann Belser is the owner of Print, a newspaper covering Pittsburgh's East End communities. After receiving a master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, she moved to Squirrel Hill and was a staff writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for 20 years where she covered local communities, county government, courts and business.