Not in their backyard
Update: County commissioners rule against dog boarding kennel
When they first discovered the sprawling, 5.3-acre property off U.S. Highway 30, just north of Scappoose, Liana and Todd Viken knew they'd found a home.
'It was exactly what we were looking for,' Liana says. 'We checked with the county and they said, yes, we could do what we were planning to do there.'
What they planned was this: live in the old farmhouse-style home and operate an upscale dog boarding operation out of an accessory building nearby.
The plan passed muster with Columbia County planners in October, but the Vikens soon discovered that not everyone was pleased by their plans.
Led by George and Debbie Benz, who own a house located about 500 feet from the Vikens' property, 100 neighbors have come out against the dog boarding kennel, saying it will destroy their idyllic rural-residential area.
The neighbors appealed the Planning Commission's decision to Columbia County commissioners, who heard two hours of testimony on Jan. 14, and continued the public hearing on Wednesday, Feb. 4.
At stake, say the irate neighbors, is the quality of life in the rural-residential neighborhoods that dot the area between Tarbell and Slavens roads in Warren.
'This decision represents a taking of the quality, quiet and tranquility of the residential neighborhood surrounding this business for the sole benefit of this commercial business,' says George Benz. 'The neighbors, in effect, end up subsidizing commercial interests that primarily benefit the applicants.'
Benz argues that the neighborhood may be zoned rural residential, but the 'rural' part of that equation is lacking.
'The neighborhood is a majority of owner-occupied homes with a few residences that are rented,' Benz says. 'This is where we live, raise families and have access to some of the best public schools in the state of Oregon. It is a wonderful residential area and is placed at risk because of a commercial business.'
The Benzes, along with 100 of their closest neighbors, say the Vikens' 'doggie pet camp,' which would board no more than 30 dogs at a time, would wipe out the peace and quiet now enjoyed in the neighborhood.
The Vikens say their neighbors are barking up the wrong tree.
'I understand why they're concerned, but I think they have the wrong idea about what we're doing,' Liana Viken said. 'We've worked with dogs for years … and all of our dogs are screened for behaviors. This isn't going to be a rescue dog kennel or something like that. This is more like a doggie hotel.'
A visit to the Vikens' Beaverton doggie daycare business, Hug-a-Bubba's, off Canyon Road, shows a well-kept facility where, on this particular day, nearly 30 dogs played with three adults. The daycare smells fresh and the dogs didn't bark, even when a visitor entered the room.
'Liana and Todd are wonderful with the dogs,' said employee Lauren Rolfe. 'These dogs are like their kids.'
Rolfe, who also works with young children when she's not working at the Beaverton doggie daycare, says the dogs at the Vikens' facility are very pampered pets with very few behavioral problems.
'If you were a neighbor, I doubt you'd hear them,' Rolfe said of the dogs she works with. 'When they first get here they might bark a little bit, but they calm down very fast. It (the barking) isn't really a problem.'
The Benzes, along with the neighbors who have signed a petition opposing the Vikens' home occupation permit for the dog-boarding facility, aren't convinced.
'Their statements, both written and verbal, stress that human intervention is needed to control the dogs,' George Benz says. 'The question is: What happens when there are no humans present? My concern is not the control of the dogs during normal business hours. My concern is dogs barking at 1 a.m. on a cold winter night when no humans are present within the facility to quiet the dogs.'
The Vikens say they want to quell their neighbors' fears. They've brought plans to the County Commission hearings showing luxury 'suites' for their overnight boarding and say they're soundproofing the building and installing $50,000 heated floors.
'Our customers are paying top dollar for this service and they expect a nice facility,' Liana says. 'We'll have cameras in all of the boarding suites so we can see and hear if a dog is up at night.'
The Vikens stress that they live on the property and don't want to be kept up all night by barking dogs.
'We are the first people who would be affected by the barking,' Liana says. 'We live there. We don't want to disturb the peace and quiet of the area.'
In October, the Columbia County Planning Commission approved the Vikens' conditional use permit for a home occupation and found that, among other things, the couple's business plan will not disrupt the neighborhood's tranquil setting.
'The majority of the business' activities will occur within the 4,600-square-foot pole barn, which will be located more than 200 feet away from the nearest neighboring dwelling,' the Planning Commission ruled. 'It is not anticipated that the proposed use will interfere with the residential character of the surrounding area.'
The neighbors - many of whom live more than 500 feet away from the Vikens' property - are also concerned about possible environmental ramifications from the dogs' feces and urine; traffic problems from people accessing the property off Highway 30; and what will happen if the Vikens ever sell their business to people with less experience handling animals.
But the biggest source of frustration for these neighbors, George Benz says, is the fact that the county doesn't seem to be listening.
'The notion that noise-related and similar conditions of approval can be enforced against a kennel or kennel-like operation is a joke,' Benz states in his appeal of the Planning Commission's permit approval. 'Once such operations are commenced they are never shut down. At the same time, citizen complaints are never shut down either, and will continue to burden the county for as long as this commercial business continues in operation.'
The Vikens have invited their neighbors to visit their Beaverton business, to see how well-behaved the dogs are and how clean the facility is, but say none have yet taken them up on the offer.
'I would love to meet them, to tell them about what we want to do,' Liana says. 'This is going to be a very nice place. The dogs will be very well taken care of. Our customers pay $40 a night to board their dogs and they expect the best.'
Benz says it shouldn't be up to the neighbors to visit the Vikens. '(They) are the only ones benefitting from this business,' Benz says. 'They should have stepped forward when they bought this residential property and reached out to the neighbors.'
Both sides have secured attorneys to argue their case in front of the Columbia County Board of Commissioners. But when it comes down to the law, the county's staff says the Vikens have met all the criteria for a home occupation permit.
The county staff has recommended that commissioners approve the Vikens' permit and allow the dog boarding facility to set up shop on the rural residential land.
'There is no evidence that the proposal will interfere with other uses permitted in the zone,' planners stated in their conclusions. 'Staff finds that the criteria (for a home occupation permit) have been met.'
The Vikens say they just want this all to be over so they can get back to their dream of providing a spacious, natural dwelling for their clients' dogs.
'This is what we love to do,' Liana says. 'These dogs are like our children. We've sold everything we owned in Beaverton to buy this property and we've lived there for the past year and a half. We bought the property because we were told we could do something like this there. We didn't think this would be so difficult.'
On Wednesday, Feb. 4, county commissioners ruled against the Vikens' application. To read a full recount of the decision, read the Feb. 11 issue of The South County Spotlight.