By Alex Bridges
FRONT ROYAL - Warren County's litter of dog kennels keeps growing.
The county's Planning and Zoning Department continues to receive requests for permits needed to run commercial kennels. In the past two months alone, the Planning Commission has discussed conditional-use permits for two separate and distinctly different kennels.
The county only recently revised the regulations for commercial kennels after months of discussion and taking input from residents.
In the past year, county leaders have considered or approved permits for several kennels. Wendy Tenney received a permit to breed Australian shepherds at her home on Limeton Church Road near Bentonville. Tamara West has applied for a permit to run a boarding kennel at her property on Menefee Lane. The county in February approved a permit to Leslie and Mike Bremigan to operate their kennel on Ritenour Hollow Road.
The Planning Commission recently endorsed a permit for Karen Bakken to operate a Weimaraner rescue at her home. The commission will hold a public hearing next month on a request for a permit to operate a boarding kennel specifically used to train dogs on Hillandale Road near Strasburg Road.
County Planner Matt Wendling acknowledged the growing popularity of kennels but also the difficulty in handling all the requests. Wendling noted that conditional-use permits are not one-size-fits-all for kennels.
"Every case is very unique in these kennel operations," Wendling said recently. "So, consequently, the Planning Commission has to take them one at a time."
In some cases, kennel operators sought permits only after county staff responded to complaints that a resident had numerous dogs on a property. Concerns about kennels operating without permits also has spurred county staff to take action and direct owners to apply for the necessary approvals.
Staff and the planning can put conditions on each permit depending on each situation. Conditions can include a limit on the breed or number of dogs allowed in the kennel, a requirement that barking heard outside the facility not exceed a certain decibel level, or that the owner must install equipment to dispose of waste. The configuration of a property owner's lot and where the owner intends to run the kennel plays a major role in how the regulations may apply. The proximity of the kennel to adjacent property owners also may determine the permit conditions.
Even with these potential restrictions in mind, the kennel boom continues.
The Bremigans operate Mystic Dream from their home on Ritenour Hollow Road, where they breed Yorkshire terriers. The popular breed attracts buyers from all over the state, Mike Bremigan said recently. Referrals and the popularity of the small breed keep the business thriving.
"We tell them when they pick up a Yorkie from us that Yorkies are like potato chips -- you can't have just one," Bremigan said. "That's been true more often than not because we've had a number of repeat customers and relatives of customers that have come in and gotten from us."
The Bremigans moved their breeding operation to the county about three years ago and went through the process set by the Planning and Zoning Department to run the commercial kennel. Bremigan recalled that their neighbors came to public hearings to support their business.
The recent rush on kennels prompted the Planning Commission and the Planning and Zoning Department to revisit the regulations for such operations. Staff also sought to address the rules to prevent the creation of "puppy mills."
The effort took several months and included public hearings to gather input from residents. The commission and the Board of Supervisors approved the newly drafted regulations earlier this year. While the new rules did spark some concerns from people seeking permits, those requests were granted.
The commission now assesses each permit using the new ordinance as amended earlier this year. Wendling said the ordinance gives officials a sliding scale to determine the number of dogs on a given parcel.
Many kennels opened before the county's planning and zoning officials revisited the rules and regulations last year. Kennels with permits approved before the change in the regulations are grandfathered under the old ordinance.
Kennels of various types operate or may soon open in the county. Boarding and breeding kennels remain popular, but the county has received proposals to open such operations for training and places to take in rescued dogs of specific breeds.
County officials in recent months have received several requests for the permits necessary to run a commercial kennel. The county requires all kennel operators to have a special-use permit if their property lies on land in the agricultural zoning district.
The owners of Cavelier Kennels on Fairground Road plan to celebrate the fifth anniversary of their business later this month. Amy and Tony Cavalier recently opened an expansion of their boarding kennel.
"It's a hard job, very hands-on," Amy Cavalier said.
Cavalier Kennels holds a permit to house up to 64 dogs. The kennel often fills up in the days leading up to major holidays and often the business has a waiting list. Amy Cavalier acknowledged that their business continues to thrive and grow in spite of the bad economy. The couple's business attracts many dog owners from outside the Warren County area.
Running a kennel takes work. The routine includes feeding, bathing, grooming and often lots of attention given by staff to each animal. Dogs can range in age from very young to elderly and each animal may have different dietary needs and medicine.
As Amy Cavalier recalled, they always had dogs in their home. Eventually they decided to put a kennel on their property. Tony Cavalier, a contractor by trade, had the kennels designed and built. Their decision to build and open a kennel at the height of the recession met with skepticism by friends and neighbors, Amy Cavalier said.
When the Cavaliers considered the plan, they reached out to their neighbors and asked for input or concerns, Amy Cavalier said. She added that they wanted to take the right steps with the process rather than build the kennel without first talking to their neighbors. Reaching out to neighbors helped the Cavaliers gain support for their kennel and that helped when it came time to seek the county's approval.
Wendling pointed out that boarding kennels have been in operation in the county for years. Spicewood Flats Boarding Kennels and Grooming, owned by Gina and Mike Moore, has been in business for more than 20 years, according to its website.
But as Wendling explained, kennels can only operate in the agricultural zoning district.
"That is a critical component," Wendling said.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org