ALBION — A standing-room-only crowd heard the Noble County Board of Zoning Appeals meeting approve a special exception for a large dog kennel Wednesday night.
Most of those at the meeting didn’t have the opportunity to speak because of how boards of zoning appeals work under Indiana law.
The BZA considered six different dog kennels at the meeting in the Dekko Room of the Noble County Office Complex-South just south of Albion. More than 100 people attended the meeting.
BZA Chairman George Bennett explained that the BZA needed to address zoning issues, not other concerns, and that its rules limit who can speak about any particular request before it.
“An interested party is the petitioner and any adjacent landowner,” Bennett said. He proposed to expand the definition to include those who reside within one-half mile of the petitioner for Wednesday’s hearing, to which the BZA members agreed by consensus.
“I suspect there are persons who are here from a greater distance than a half a mile,” Bennett said. Some people who would like to have input do not meet the definition of interested parties under BZA rules and would not be eligible to speak, he said.
Pam Sordyl, a dog advocate based in Clarkston, Mich., organized opposition to many of the kennels.
“There is no animal control officer, standards or limits in place to protect dogs used for breeding only,” Sordyl said in a news release issuedbefore the meeting.
The BZA is charged only with considering land-use concerns such as zoning, not whether a kennel should be in a place or not, Bennett said. Discussion needed to be limited to concerns over which the BZA has jurisdiction, he added.
The biggest issue was with the biggest kennel, one with up to 200 dogs at 2084 W. C.R. 1150N near Rome City, owned by Marlin and Erma Bontrager.
The Bontragers’ kennel has been found in violation of some U.S. Department of Agriculture rules as recently as an October 2012 inspection. Their kennel had been operating without receiving a special exception, so it needed an after-the-fact approval to continue operation.
The Bontragers’ attorney, Wendy Gensch, said other documents reflected that it was a kennel and had a certificate of occupancy. There was no effort to hide the kennel, she said; the Bontragers simply were unaware of the procedure they needed to follow.
Marlin Bontrager is a member of the Indiana Council for Animal Welfare and is regulated and licensed by the Indiana State Board of Animal Health and the American Kennel Club, Gensch said. The USDA, state board of animal health or AKC could shut him down for serious violations, she added.
Gensch read a letter from the USDA veterinarian, Hillary Reinholt. who monitors the Bontragers’ kennel and said the dogs there are well cared for. “Mr. Bontrager feels it is important to breed high-quality dogs,” Gensch read from the letter.
The kennel structure and business add to the area economy, Gensch said.
Two neighbors spoke in support of the Bontragers’ request.
During the meeting, Sordyl presented a petition signed by two neighbors ostensibly opposed to the kennel request. One of those neighbors also had signed a petition in support of the same kennel.
When the board had Sordyl report her address, laughter broke out in the room. Sordyl had posted pictures on Facebook of the kennel, allegedly showing health violations there.
Noble County zoning administrator Steve Kirkpatrick had conducted a surprise visit at the kennel because of the question of whether a kennel license had been received. Referring to the allegations connected to the photos, he said, “I didn’t see any of that.”
Bennett said the kennel is an agricultural operation in a niche providing to the consumer, which is consistent with Noble County’s comprehensive plan.
The special exception for the Bontragers’ kennel was approved by a 5-0 vote, on the condition that it was not transferable to future owners.