F’ville Council referees dog feud
In this corner, 60 barking dogs, an animal rescue business and its supporters; in the opposite corner, a senior citizens’ subdivision
Everybody loves dogs and no one wants them to suffer. But when it comes to an ordinance amendment that would place new criteria on commercial kennels and animal shelters, the Fayetteville City Council appears to be between a rock and a very hard place.
As expected, the proposed amendment was tabled at the Dec. 5 meeting, but not before supporters of Courtney’s Canine Care countered the noise complaints of homeowners and businesses that surfaced at the November meeting.
At issue is an amendment to the M-1 (Light Manufacturing) zoning district pertaining to commercial kennels and animal shelters, both of which would be permitted by special exception.
Specific to those operations, the amendment permits a maximum of 16 animals on the premises, a maximum of four animals outdoors at any time, outdoor exercise areas surrounded by a 6-foot fence with opaque materials and employees on the premises when animals are outdoors.
The proposed amendment also requires the facility to be constructed to contain noise, odors and drainage so as not to constitute a nuisance or hazard to adjoining and neighboring lots.
Director of Community Development Brian Wismer at a previous meeting told council members the amendment pertains to existing and future animal shelters and commercial kennels.
That is where Courtney’s Canine Care on Industrial Way comes into the picture. Owner Lisa Fleming currently houses up to 60 dogs at the facility and, to date, does not have the noise abatement material in place that would potentially mitigate the noise complaints by area residents in nearby Autumn Glen. (Azalea Estates was initially and incorrectly listed as one of the sources of complaints.)
Representing Courtney’s Canine Care, attorney David Studdard at the meeting said, “As proposed, (the amendment) would severely impact her ability (to conduct business). She provides an invaluable service. I urge the council to look at all the sides.”
Studdard said Fleming understands the noise concerns, though some of the provisions in the ordinance, such as required construction activities, would be cost-prohibitive.
“Since the last council meeting I’ve been contacted by numerous people in the city and state and out of the state with concerns about the proposal,” Studdard added.
Studdard thanked council members for considering tabling the agenda item.
Councilman Walt White in response said the city has worked with Fleming for some time.
“We’ve worked as hard as we could to help her get her act together. She hasn’t tried to meet the criteria,” White said. “We’ve done everything we can do to help her get her business in line. Your (Studdard’s) letter was like it was our problem.”
Studdard responded, saying he did not intend to put any onus on the council.
Councilman Larry Dell then entered the discussion, referencing the vocal complaints of some of the residents of Autumn Glen. Some of the homes in the senior subdivision are approximately 120 feet — not quite half a football field away — from the animal shelter property on Industrial Way.
Dell’s reference included, in part, a number of Autumn Glen residents who recently attended a council meeting to voice demonstrable complaints about the noise coming from the animal shelter. They said the noise was excessive and asked the council to address the issue.
“(Some residents of) a nearby subdivision for seniors have come to us with complaints about the dogs barking and fighting,” Dell said. “These people have never complained about anything else. So please keep that in mind.”
“I just want to make sure my client’s rights aren’t trampled,” Studdard responded.
Prior to hearing from the public, Dell said the ordinance was being reviewed for a potential re-write.
Several in the audience spoke on behalf of Fleming and her needed work in providing the shelter. One of those was Partners for Pets co-founder Amy Adams.
Adams commended the council for trying to work with Fleming, “Because this is a very needed service that would otherwise cost the lives of animals.”
Adams said she would check to see if a grant might be available to help mitigate the expenses that would be needed if the ordinance amendment is adopted.
Also addressing the council was Dave Williams, owner of the Creative South packaging firm located across Industrial Way from the animal shelter.
“The point is not to have her move. The point is to abate the sound, to cut it down,” Williams said. “There’s a point in time where ... are animals more important than humans? I can hear the dogs barking inside their building at 11 p.m. I have to comply with the noise ordinance. All I’m asking is to put up sound abatement material.”
Continuing his comments, Williams said he has insulated the front portion of his business to help mitigate the sound coming from the animal shelter.
“I don’t want the kennel eliminated. But I believe, according to the noise ordinance, she’s in violation every day. So we need to find a way to eliminate the problem,” Williams said, turning to the audience and holding up a $100 bill. “I’m offering to put up the first $100 to help. Put your money where your mouth is and help her with the sound abatement.”
Another speaker taking the podium was Fleming’s father, Jerry Harper, who was visibly upset over the proposed ordinance amendment and the effect it could have on his daughter’s business.
“She’s got a business license. Where do you draw the line?” Harper asked, echoing the comments of Councilman Mickey Edwards at a previous meeting. It was at that meeting that Edwards said, and Councilman Ed Johnson essentially agreed, that the issue lay partially with the city since Fleming received a business license and she is one and a half years into a three-year lease.
“She gets dogs that are in terrible shape,” Harper continued. “She has the dogs checked by a vet and she takes care of them. And she (sometimes) pays for the vet visits personally.”
Others addressing the council said they did not want the ordinance amendment to inadvertently hurt doggie day care businesses while others hoped for a solution because Fleming provides a needed service to the community. Doggie day care businesses are not included in the amendment pertaining to commercial kennels and animal shelters.
Wismer at a previous meeting said city staff have made multiple visits to Courtney’s Canine Care following the noise complaints. The business has gone to court for one citation and a second citation is pending, he said.
After public comments the agenda item was tabled without discussion. The council is expected to take up the ordinance amendment in January.