By Alex Bridges
FRONT ROYAL -- Warren County planners this week endorsed a resident's plan to run a dog rescue operation out of her home.
Karin Bakken requested a conditional-use permit to operate a commercial boarding kennel at 1477 Hillandale Road, Front Royal. The 5-acre property, zoned for agricultural use, lies in the Green Hill Forest subdivision. The county requires such a permit in order to run a kennel on agricultural land.
Bakken works with the DC Area Weimaraner Rescue, which specializes in rescuing and adopting out dogs of this breed. Bakken serves as the organization's secretary, according to the group's website.
The Planning Commission held a public hearing on the matter Wednesday and heard from three neighbors who had concerns about noise that a kennel with a dozen dogs could generate. Speakers who indicated their opposition to the request also said they worried about how a nearby kennel would affect the value of their home. One neighbor said he plans to put his home on the market soon.
Commission Chairman Mark Bower reminded speakers the hearing doesn't serve as a question-and-answer period. However, the panel did take up the questions after they closed the hearing. Bower then asked Bakken to speak.
"I thought it was the right thing to do when I moved to the county," Bakken said. "I was trying to do everything right."
Bakken bought the house as a foreclosure last year and made improvements inside the property for the kennel, she said. At the time the county was in the process of setting up guidelines for commercial kennels.
County Planner Matt Wendling presented information about the permit request to the commission. Wendling explained that Bakken has stated that dogs stay on average 2-3 weeks depending on the animal's medical issues. Foster and adoptive owners visit occasionally and by appointment only. Bakken has four dogs as pets and the amount of rescue canines fluctuates, Wendling said.
County rules allow Bakken to house up to 15 dogs on her property. Bakken explained that she doesn't plan to keep 12 dogs at any one time, but used that number as a ceiling.
Dogs are housed in 10- by 8-foot pens in Bakken's climate-controlled basement that has access to a backyard through a sliding-glass door, Wendling said. She does not breed Weimaraners, but instead deals with the adoption of older dogs, he noted.
Animal control officers received a complaint July 13 about noise and the number of dogs on site exceeding the four allowed by right, Wendling said. Planning Department staff visited the home and found 12-15 dogs in crates.
The applicant charges fees to cover the cost of medical care and other expenses, though the organization is classified as a nonprofit.
The Planning Commission ultimately agreed to forward the permit request to the Board of Supervisors. The permit comes with the conditions that the kennel hold no more than 12 Weimaraner dogs. The kennel must operate on an appointment basis only. The county treasurer shall issue licenses for dogs older than 6 months that stay boarded on the property for more than a year.
The kennel can receive a waiver of the property-line setback requirements because the house lies 45 feet and 35 feet from the adjacent side property lines. The neighboring homes would receive a waiver to allow for setbacks of 95 feet and 115 feet from the existing structure.
The permit requires the existing landscaping buffer remain in place. The applicant also must allow the Sheriff's Office and the Planning Department to make scheduled and unscheduled site visits to check for compliance with the permit conditions and other county requirements.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org