The Kenwood Press
News: 03/01/2013

Kennel expansion approved by BZA

Gus Peters

The Sonoma County Board of Zoning Adjustments (BZA) unanimously approved the first phase of the Meadows Kennel’s proposed expansion at the end of its Feb. 21 meeting. Opponents are appealing the decision to the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors.

Based on the BZA’s decision, the kennel would be able to expand its current facility to a capacity of 20 dogs and be subject to an operational review by the BZA in one year to ensure that the project is compliant with the conditions placed on it.

If the review goes well, a second phase could expand the kennel yet again, by increasing the dog capacity to a maximum of 35, offering grooming services, and building a new, 1,496-square-foot kennel facility.

The Meadows Kennel, situated at the corner of Sonoma Hwy. and Richards Road west of Oakmont Drive, has faced vehement criticism from some neighbors and Oakmont residents. Many worry about the possibility of increased traffic and accidents at the intersection, as well as the potential noise generated by the dogs.

Both sides were well represented, as 70 to 80 people filled the hearing room at the Permit and Resource Management Department (PRMD) and voiced both concerns and support during the two and a half hour hearing.

“She could have the best kennel in the country but this is not the location for it,” said Michael Bernd, referring to kennel owner Heidi Niemann. Bernd lives immediately adjacent to the kennel property.

Richard Cox, who lives near the kennel, claimed that any accidents resulting on Sonoma Hwy. are not a result of the kennel. “It’s the driver and not the fact that the kennel’s there,” said Cox.

“I don’t need a sound or noise study; I do hear dogs,” Mariellen Munson, an Oakmont resident, told the commission, countering proponents of the kennel by saying, “It’s easy to support the kennel if you don’t live near it.”

Both sides have conducted studies since last year’s initial proposal, which proposed a 50-dog kennel. TJKM, a transportation consultant hired by the kennel, concluded that the current accident rate on the stretch of Sonoma Hwy. bordered by the kennel did not warrant the installation of a left turn lane. Caltrans does not recommend a turn lane either.

Transpedia Consulting Engineers, the firm hired by opponents of the kennel, claimed TJKM’s report on the matter was inadequate and underestimated the volume of traffic a larger kennel will generate.

A noise evaluation completed by Lumina Technologies promises that the proposed kennel will not exceed any existing county noise restriction requirements and may, in fact, reduce noise due to the planned insulation of the new kennel building.

However, an opposition report filed by Beyers/Costin, a Santa Rosa law firm working on behalf of the Bernd family, disputed this. “Notwithstanding the wishful assumptions and methodology of the acoustical studies,” their report concludes, “there is a ‘fair argument’ that this project will indeed have significant noise impacts on its neighbors.”

Some opponents have even demanded an Environmental Impact Report, arguing that there is a fair argument that the expanded kennel may negatively impact the surrounding environment.

Tom Lynch, a BZA commissioner, believed the approval of the first phase was a victory for both sides though. According to him, the conditions placed on the project set a precedent for future kennel proposals in Sonoma County. Don Bennett, another commissioner, echoed this sentiment, mentioning the great lengths to which Neimann has gone in order to address potential problems.

The BZA approved the Meadow Kennel’s use permit by a unanimous 5-0 vote.

Two of the 49 conditions of the project were modified before the final approval: the capacity of the kennel will include the owner’s dog(s), and any finding of a violation by county code enforcement staff would result in a BZA hearing before the one-year scheduled operational review.