Commission Approves Downtown Animal Shelter

Despite concerns about barking dogs, crushing cans, Humane Society's 61-kennel facility on McLane wins use permit

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A jubilant band of Humane Society dog lovers won planning commission approval for a new 17,487-square-foot, 61-kennel facility on McLane Road, just off the Main Street commercial and tourist district.

The 2.5-acre site -- adjacent to the existing shelter in the heart of the Main Street business district bordered by a planned luxury condominium project -- will include a large, concrete-block, sound-proofed kennel, a series of dog runs and even space for the Humane Society's can crushing operation.

The Humane Society won unanimous approval from the planning commission for its conditional use permit, despite some concerns expressed by neighboring property owners about the potential impact of barking dogs and whether enough neighbors within earshot knew of the plans.

Generally, the planning commissioners praised the Humane Society's efforts to soundproof the main kennel building, restrict the number of dogs that will be outside in the exercise yard and limit the hours of operation of the can crusher, which currently operates on the property as part of the group's recycling fund raising efforts.

Hallie Jackman, whose adjacent development will include about 160 condos in the $300,000 to $600,000 price range, asked the commission to move the kennels and outdoor runs as far from the proposed adjacent homes as possible. She predicted that residents will end up calling the police department frequently to complain about the sound of the animals.

"It just isn't a good situation for the police department," she said.

"Police are just going to tell them them that it's a dog pound -- that's where we put the dogs," said Commissioner Russell Goddard. "It's an unusual situation putting the dogs right next to where people are going to be living."

Humane Society Director Ellie Watson said the concrete block construction with extra grouting will prevent the sound of the dogs from escaping into the neighborhood. Volunteers will exercise dogs five or six at a time in the outdoor areas, with special handling for dogs that bark. Currently, the kennels aren't sound proofed and 10 or 15 dogs are out in the exercise area at any one time.

"You won't hear the dogs inside at all," she said. "And we'll only have three or four at a time in the exercise yard -- and any of the dogs with a tendency to bark will be walked on a leash. We don't want to hear the dogs barking outside either -- we'll have enough of that inside."

Planning Commissioner Jere Jarell wondered whether it makes sense to put the pound just off the main business district next to a luxury development.

"Is this the highest and best use of this property?" he asked, although he acknowledged that the planning commission really didn't have the authority to make that decision.

"This property was purchased by a previous board," said Watson. "But now this is a make or break situation. Our (existing) facility is crumbling. Whether it is right or wrong, we must build our shelter there."

She said the architect who designed the building has done 700 such shelters, many in the middle of residential neighborhoods. She said she'd toured many of those facilities and "yes, it works," even right next door to houses.

With that, most of the discussion before the commission centered on the noise the can crusher might make and the plan to build an eight-foot-high block wall between the animal shelter and Jackman's condo development.

The Humane Society decided to build the wall to block some of the sound drifting over to the adjacent property, although as one commissioner observed you can hear a dog bark from a block away.

As it turns out, Jackman will be building a three-foot-high retaining wall on the edge of her property -- right up against the eight-foot-tall wall on the Humane Society's property.

Several commissioners suggested the two property owners cooperate to build a single wall, but didn't include such a stipulation in the requirements.

They also spent some time talking about the aluminum can crusher that currently operates on the property, but which will be at least partially enclosed under the new plan.

"It is very noisy, but it's out in the open now," said Watson, noting that the enclosure should at least reduce the noise level.

Planning Commissioner Gary Bedsworth objected to approving the project without a noise study. But when he learned that the can crusher has been operating for several years without generating a single complaint, he withdrew his objection.

Jackman said of the can crusher, "it is very loud. Everyone in the neighborhood is expecting it was going to go away soon -- which is why no one complained. But it is very loud."

In the end, the planning commission noted that the town has no noise ordinance that would enable it to regulate the amount of noise the shelter produced. Watson agreed to a condition that would limit use of the can crusher to business hours.

"I love the project," Bedsworth concluded.

"I'm not sure whose decision it was to involve the builder at the design stage, but it was a good one," said Commissioner Joel Mona.

"I salute you on being so persistent," he said of a planning process that has stretched several years.

In the end, the commission voted 7-0 to approve the use permit -- which provoked a spontaneous cheer, much high-fiving and more than a few hugs among the 25 people who had crowded the council chamber to lend their support.

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