After months of postponement, the Sparta Planning Board held its first public hearing Wednesday evening on an application to build a kennel on Sterling Hill Road, but insufficient time and a lack of updated plans led to the need to once again adjourn the issue. Among the chief concerns held by the board and neighboring property owners are traffic safety, the volume of business that would be conducted on the site, and noise, sanitation, visibility, and the effect on property values.
The applicants, Stacy Galvin and Phil Venello, along with their representatives, attorney Carl Nelson and planner Wayne McCabe, came to present their case to the board. Addressing the amount of traffic the facility would bring to the residential street, Galvin and Venello explained that the kennel would be a home and small business for a long-time friend to house and breed her AKC-pedigreed cairn terriers. It would not be used for commercial pet-boarding, and the only traffic in and out would be potential buyers for puppies, according to the owners.
McCabe also addressed the angle of the existing driveway, which is near a blind curve and which currently encroaches on a neighboring property.
“The driveway would be shifted,” he said. “It will then be in the correct place, and hopefully mitigate the angle to the roadway.”
Concerned neighbors, led by Bruce Murphy and attorney William Haggerty of Dolan & Dolan, PA in Newton, filled much of the space in the courtroom at Sparta Town Hall, to express their worries about the potential kennel.
Haggerty said that he feels that the property needs to be considered as having two separate uses, as a residence and as a business, and that the planning board should take that into account when making their determination.
“It would be an owner-operator situation,” Nelson countered.“The kennel would just be an accessory to the residence. The person living in the home will be the caretaker for the dogs.”
McCabe explained what the owners, who are operating under the business name Takada, are looking to do with the property.
“This location is topographically challenging,” he said. “And the house needs complete rehab, down to the studs. But they’d like to move a pre-fab 16’x10’ kennel to the property, and then, in another couple of years, build a larger 23’x36’kennel.”
Neighbors also expressed their concerns that work has already begun on the site, despite the kennel plans not yet receiving a green light. McCabe explained that the property has been approved by the county to install a new septic system, one that would accommodate having three buildings on the site. Preparation for the septic work is underway, along with the clear-cutting of many trees. Residents were reminded by Planning Board Chairman George Zacsek that it was within Galvin and Venello’s rights as owners to improve the property and complete work that has already received approval.
As the meeting stretched past 10:30 p.m., it became clear that time would be a factor. The Board asked that all those who wished to speak, do so quickly and only add new concerns to the conversation.
Richard Goldberg, who resides at 35 Sterling Hill Rd., said he’s worried he won’t be able to have his windows open if the kennel becomes a reality.
“I moved back to Sparta to have peace and quiet,” Goldberg said. “I have three big questions about this kennel. How will they approach noise concerns? And what about attracting critters like raccoons and bears? Mostly I want to know about the smell. The plans don’t show how they plan to clean the kennels and get the waste into the septic system. I’d like to see new drawings before the next meeting.”
Stuart Salvigsen lives at 45 Sterling Hill Rd., diagonal to the proposed kennel. His worries are regarding visibility and run-off.
“I feel like the plans are misleading; I think I’ll absolutely be able to see the structures,” he said. “And with the way things are graded, I already get a lot of runoff on my property. If they add impervious surfaces like kennel runs, I have concerns about water and waste.”
Rounding out the list of issues from neighboring property owners were a need for clarification on how many dogs would be on the property at any given time, a question about what sort of outdoor lighting would be needed, and if medications beyond basic preventatives such as vaccines, flea and tick, and dewormers would be stored at the kennel. The Planning Board is also concerned about future uses of the property, should they approve the kennel now as a breeding facility for small dogs.
“We have to look down the road,” said Deputy Mayor Christine Quinn, who serves as a council liaison member of the board. “What if it becomes a commercial boarding kennel later? We have to consider the future, too.”
Bruce Murphy, the neighbor who began the movement in protest of the kennel application, says there are too many details missing for the board to make any decisions.
“It just seems like everything is very murky,” Murphy said.
Chairman Zacsek agrees that the board needs more answers before they can begin to consider any site approvals.
“We need to know the line of sight, the new grade of the driveway, and how drainage will work,” Zacsek said, “in addition to answers to all the other questions. It has to be covered in the report for next time.”
"Next time" is tentatively scheduled to be at the Planning Board’s meeting at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 1. By request of the board and as promised to board attorney Tom Collins, McCabe will deliver an updated set of plans for review by March 7. While the concerned neighbors weren’t thrilled that the application was not dismissed, they are happy that action was not immediately taken and that they’ll get at least one more hearing.
“This is an interesting legal issue,” Collins said. “It will take a lot of time and more meetings to determine how to interpret the ordinances to sort out this case.”