By MELODY KARPINSKI
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Tensions ran high at a Sonoma County hearing to approve a dog kennel expansion on Highway 12 Thursday.
The proposed expansion of Meadows Kennels increases the current 10-dog limit to 35 dogs over two phases, adding overnight boarding.
The Sonoma County Board of Zoning Adjustments unanimously approved the kennel expansion after a nearly three hour hearing.
Residents from the kennel’s neighborhood and nearby Oakmont came out in force to protest the expansion, complaining of noise and traffic issues.
“It’s an inappropriate place for a kennel,” said Oakmont resident Shirley Phillips, who started an online petition against the expansion. The petition received 168 signatures over the course of a week.
Heidi Niemann, who owns and operates the kennel, has sought to expand the kennel since 2011. Niemann originally applied for a permit for 50 dogs, but at a hearing in March 2012 the board determined the kennel needed to make adjustments to mitigate neighborhood concerns.
“I’m trying to be really mindful of the neighbors,” said Niemann.
More than 40 people initially lined up to speak during the public portion of the hearing, but the number dwindled slightly during a two-hour delay to the hearing’s start.
“(Niemann) does not have the support of her neighbors,” said Tim Badger, who lives near the kennel.
The kennel, which sits on a three-acre parcel already zoned for agriculture, services clients from Oakmont, Skyhawk, Glen Ellen and Sonoma. A number of clients appeared at the hearing in support of Niemann.
Traffic topped the list of concerns voiced by the opposition.
“Our intersection is affected by kennel traffic, and the expansion (would) generate more traffic,” said Rich Hill, who lives up the street from the kennel. Hill noted 10 of his neighbors have been involved in traffic accidents.
Star Dewar, who also lives up the street from the kennel, said that she hasn’t noticed any extra traffic. “It hasn’t impacted anything.”
County project planner Melinda Grosch noted in her report a CalTrans determination said the Highway 12 corridor’s accident ratio is “substantially lower than the statewide average.” Traffic experts from both sides also spoke at the hearing.
Niemann’s lawyer, Bradley Hindley, told the board that the expansion would reduce traffic by almost 60 percent.
“Traffic is an issue for some people, yet the goal is to reduce traffic by converting it to an overnight boarding instead of a daycare,” said Hindley.
The public was expected to keep comments to three minutes long, a stipulation met with sharp dissent when Bob Haroche, a lawyer for the opposition, was held to the same time limit. The board denied the request of multiple people who sought to give up their time slots for Haroche.
Noise level concerns were also raised, with multiple testimonies given describing the stress dog barking caused for neighbors currently.
“We’re some distance away and you can hear the dogs quite clearly,” said Phillips. “It is spectacularly stressful.”
Niemann’s sound expert testified to the board that the kennel complied with county noise level restrictions, which he noted were “stringent.”
“There is no sound issue,” said Richard Cox, an Oakmont resident who uses the kennel. “I think (Niemann) has done a service to the neighborhood.”
Hindley provided a list of 22 adjustments Niemann had made to accommodate neighborhood concerns, including eight that addressed noise issues.
“It is impressive when an applicant over-mitigates, particularly in light of fierce public opposition,” said Commissioner Paula Cook.
Commissioner Dick Fogg noted the “high level of community concern” in the issue, but expressed concern over the high amount of “anecdotal” evidence submitted during the public portion of the hearing.
After stipulating that the kennel would receive a review from the board in one year, the board passed Niemann’s request.
Members of the opposition voiced frustration with both the long delay to the hearing’s start and the board’s treatment of Haroche.
“Our tranquility may come to an end,” said Tammi Bernd, who lives next door to the kennel. “We’re disappointed and the neighborhood was ignored.” When asked if the opposition will pursue a lawsuit, Bernd replied: “We’ll see.”
The opposition has 10 days to appeal the zoning board’s decision.
Staff Writer Melody Karpinski can be reached at 521-5205 or firstname.lastname@example.org.