(Posted June 4, 2015)
By Sandi Latimer, Staff Writer
West Jefferson’s two-animal limit still stands—for now.
In a public hearing on June 1, village council upheld the existing law that limits the number of farm animals a resident can have to two. However, some council members indicated the ordinance could use a second look.
The issue came up when James and Michelena Aubry of 312 Madison Dr. N. asked for a zoning variance so they could have several dogs on the premises. At a May 6 Planning and Zoning Commission, Mrs. Aubry said she had a kennel license, seven dogs of her own and was keeping three other dogs for a friend. She also said she planned to breed the dogs and sell puppies. The variance was denied.
Neighbors complained at the May 6 Planning and Zoning Commission meeting and at the June 1 appeal the Aubrys brought before council. Complaints centered around the number of dogs, inadequate space for the kennels on the property, and doing business in a residential area.
Jim Abels, who lives a few houses away from the Aubrys, said he “doesn’t want to live near a zoo,” citing noise and smells.
“I think the Zoning Commission made the right decision,” he said. “Seven dogs is a train wreck about to happen.”
Bob Green, who lives at 318 Madison Dr. N., said he checked with a realtor who told him property values could fall between 31 and 41 percent with such an operation in the neighborhood.
Resident Alexa Murray wanted to know if domesticated animals, such as dogs and cats, could be separated from the category of farm animals. She said she has two dogs of her own and is fostering two others.
Zoning Inspector Arnie Booth said he has heard of chickens being raised in the village, but has not yet pursued that. He maintained he was abiding by what is on the zoning books. The specification is that no more than three or more dogs over the age of three months may be kept within 100-feet limits.
Mr. Aubry said he attended the June 1 council meeting to appeal the zoning board’s decision and was unaware of a public hearing. He said he felt he was being denied due process because he didn’t have his attorney present. Booth said the Aubrys were notified.
Questions were raised as to whether notification of a public hearing should be in writing or if a verbal advisory is satisfactory.
After audience members offered their comments on the matter, council members weighed in.
“We have a problem with the zoning book,” Ray Martin acknowledged. “Seven dogs and a kennel sounds like a business.”
The Planning and Zoning Commission has been studying various sections of the zoning book and working to update it.
Several council members agreed that seven dogs is too many for a small space. Randy Otis, noting that he appreciates the Aubrys’ dog rescue efforts, said such an operation would be better suited to larger property outside the village.
“We have a lot to take into consideration and it impacts the community,” said council member Cory Coburn. “We have to take the neighbors into consideration. Maybe there is room for change because right now it seems to be more negatives than positives.”
Steve Johnston expressed concern about property values.
At the end of the public hearing, which lasted 40 minutes, council faced two possibilities. Resolutions were drawn up that upheld the Planning and Zoning Commission’s decision and one that overturned it.
Jim King moved and Doug Eakins seconded a motion to uphold the commission’s decision. Aubry made one last move, asking that the action be pushed back until the June 15 meeting, but council members cast a 7-0 vote denying the variance and upholding he two-animal limit.
Council President Ron Garver said the resolution will go into effect five days after he and Mayor Darlene Steele sign it. That means that as of June 8, the Aubrys will be in violation of the zoning code if they don’t find homes for five of the seven dogs and return the other three to their owners.