Zoning ordinance focus of ongoing debate over kennel businesses near homes

The question of how government can and should oversee dog kennel businesses in Columbia County has been problematic for some time, according to county officials.

A matter currently before the county commission is a perfect KATIE WILSON - Kristen Dryer gives Boris, one of his breeding Great Danes, a bit of love at the kennel Dryer owns and operates with his wife outside Rainier.

A county zoning ordinance passed last year requires all kennel facilities be at least 100 feet from all property lines, according to Chief Planner Glen Higgins. Kennels that had been operating until the passage of the new ordinance and met the boundary requirements were eligible to apply to be grandfathered in, said County Commissioner Tony Hyde.

Kristen Dreyer, who operates his dog kennel on a 10-acre property in Rainier, has been operating his facility for 10 years. During those years, he invested thousands of dollars into his business, erecting fences and improving and expanding existing structures on the property.

Now, he is fighting to keep his kennel open. He applied for a property setback variance that would allow his existing kennel facilities to stay where they are — 30 feet from the west property line. He also applied for a conditional use permit to continue operating his business.

But at a presentation to the county Planning Commission in June, a neighbor claimed the Great Danes and standard poodles Dreyer breeds are a nuisance, barking incessantly, escaping and killing chickens. They are, in the official language, alleged to be “detrimental to the public’s health or welfare.”

The commission denied Dreyer the variance and without that, and the conformance to land-use ordinances it would provide, he would not be able to obtain a conditional-use permit either. When the matter went before the county commissioners on Sept. 12, the staff study recommended upholding the planning commissions decision.

For Dryer, the news couldn’t be worse.

“If I can’t have the dogs here,” he said, “I lose my property, I lose my income.”

Kennels a tricky business

Kennels are tricky operations, overseen by a host of animal control and land-use ordinances.

This is for a very good reason, said County Commissioners Hyde and Henry Heimueller. Kennels, if mismanaged, can become huge community problems, Hyde KATIE WILSON - Dreyer's Danes, a kennel near Rainier that's facing possible closure, breeds Great Danes and standard poodles (above), selling 70 to 100 puppies a year.

An ordinance amended last year came about after a long battle between the county and kennel owners over changes to the county’s zoning ordinance. The separate amended ordinance merged animal control and land use by giving the animal control officer more authority in enforcing land-use requirements for kennels and in dog nuisance violations.

It gave the law “some teeth,” as Hyde commented at the time.

Complaints from neighbors

Dryer’s kennel is laid out on a downward slope toward Apiary Road in the wooded foothills outside Rainier. Heavy log trucks rumble by. A dozen Great Danes scatter themselves across the yard. More nap under trees or inside their kennels.

If a neighboring dog barks or someone pulls up in the driveway, floppy ears prick up and the yard quickly becomes a swarm of fur and slobbery dog faces. The barking can drown out conversation.

Dreyer’s neighbors, Dan Hendrickson and Leonard Sterling have complained to the Planning Commission that the dogs bark incessantly.

“Dogs bark,” Dryer said, a comment echoed by the county commissioners as they listened to testimony at a hearing Sept. 12. “Everybody out here has dogs.” And all of them, Dryer added, will bark from time to time. “If you can’t raise dogs here, I don’t know where you’re going to raise them.”

At the hearing, Chief Planner Glen Higgens displayed a map of the property. Inside the box created by Dreyer’s property lines was a long rectangle outlined in black ink, the boundary inside of which he must place his kennel facilities. As the property stands now, much of the kennel operation lies outside of that boundary.

After the Sept. 12 hearing, he said he immediately wrote the commissioners a letter saying he’d move his facilities into the boundaries indicated by Land Development Services. They plan to deliberate at a meeting on Oct. 5.

Dreyer’s land is for sale, but until he sells, he needs to be making some kind of a profit, he said.

“Just to move things into that rectangle right now,” Dryer paused, calculating quickly in his head. “That’s $2,000 or $3,000 just to rebuild fencing.”

He and his wife own a larger piece of property in Washington state where he says county kennel laws are less restrictive. But that land lacks the easy access to nearby towns and to the Portland airport. Still, their plan is to move there as soon as they can sell their Oregon land.

Dryer, who said he is disabled, feels he doesn’t have any other options at this point.

“This is what we do for a living,” he said. “We tried a lot of different things and this is what’s evolved for us.”

A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the length of time a kennel had to be operational prior to the current kennel ordinance going into effect to be eligible under its "grandfather" clause. The kennel had to be operational prior to last year's kennel ordinance going into effect. The Spotlight regrets the error.

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