Dogged daycare II: The pressure's on for the pups

When the City of Charlottesville forced a doggie daycare center to close its outdoor play yard last month for failure to receive a special use permit, the center's owners and customers howled foul. Now, fur is flying over the recent discovery that a nearby grooming facility that's been in operation for at least five years also lacks a special use permit for its outdoor run.

"We just want the city to treat us fairly," says Karen Quillen, owner of All Things Pawssible on Albemarle Street off Rose Hill Drive in an M-1 industrial-zoned area. While she wants equal treatment, Quillen is quick to stress that she doesn't want to see the same thing happen to Pampered Pets, a grooming and boarding facility on Allied Street with which All Things Pawssible has a close working relationship.

"We would give the whole thing up if it was going to negatively affect Pampered Pets," she says.

She's hoping it never comes to that, but the situation is tricky.

Quillen and her business partner, Sean Julian, say they were told by a zoning administrator who is no longer working for the city that an outdoor run with their kennel is a by-right use in the M-1 zoned area.

The duo spent several thousand dollars cleaning the yard, putting down mulch, and erecting a six-foot fence at the back of the property. They also rented a house that backs onto the same yard, hired additional help, and accepted new patrons based on the expanded space.

Then came the rain. In one torrential downpour, much of the mulch washed under the fence and clogged the culverts in the neighboring residential property, owned by Sarah and Ernest Terrell, causing their basement to fill with water.

Though Julian did clean out the mulch immediately, Sarah Terrell said no one ever approached her about the issue, and she feared escalating problems. The idea of having dozens of dogs running in a yard mere feet from their brand new porch was upsetting to the Terrells, and after they attended city council and planning board meetings, Mayor Maurice Cox paid the Terrells a visit.

"A nightmare," is how he described the view from the Terrells' property. It seemed no negotiation would be possible. Now, however, relations have improved between the neighbors after a meeting among the Terrells, Julian, and Quillen.

"It's much less tense," says Sarah Terrell, who now believes a happy resolution is possible for both parties. Julian and Quillen agree.

Working things out with the city may not be as simple.

There's the whole issue of the special use permit and of Pampered Pets.

Though Susan Hadley, owner of Pampered Pets, declined comment for the article, Jim Tolbert, director of neighborhood development, acknowledges that Pampered Pets has operated for years without a special use permit.

"That was probably an oversight," he says. The city attorney is looking into the matter of special use permits, but Tolbert says he can't foresee Pampered Pets' business being affected.

In the meantime, one of Quillen and Julian's customers, Margaret Marsh, has investigated the matter and says she believes that the city code supports All Things' position; she outlines her case in an early August letter to the city's Tolbert.

According to section 34-4 of the code, explains Marsh, All Things Pawssible fits the definition of a kennel. No restrictions are placed on "kennels" in M-1 districts, though the difference between indoor and outdoor runs for "animal shelters, boarding, or breeding facilities" and "animal hospitals" is clearly delineated in other sections of the code. Marsh believes inconsistencies in the code should not be grounds for damaging a business that had followed the code as it is written.

But the city's not buying Marsh's argument. Tolbert says nothing he's seen or heard has changed his mind about the situation, and if Quillen and Julian want to apply for a special use permit, they will have to come before the planning commission which next meets on September 9.

Quillen says a recent letter from the planning department announced that in addition to grading of the lot and planting of Leyland Cyprus trees, water runoff from her business would have to enter the public sanitary sewer system, not the storm water drains.

Barbara Venerus in the city's zoning department says that all animal shelters and animal hospitals operate under the same requirement, laid out in section 34-883 of the city code, which states that "Drainage from the building interior and exterior runs and pens shall go to a sanitary sewer system." The purpose, Venerus says, is to control the spread of fecal matter into water supplies. For Quillen and Julian, it's just one more expense they say they didn't know about.

Quillen says she doesn't know how far she's willing to fight and how much money she's willing to spend.

"The whole situation," she says, "is bordering on ludicrous."