With death and taxes being life's only sure bets, Dr. Kevin Cawood could expect no guarantee when he asked the city's permission to build a $2 million animal care and training facility next to his Aboite Township veterinary clinic. But with a similar project having been approved but never built on the same property just six years earlier, he had reason for optimism.
Until the same Board of Zoning Appeals that had supported his earlier proposal this month rejected this one as “detrimental to the general welfare of the surrounding community,” that is.
“We've been here 10 years and had no complaints,” Cawood said, referring to his Indian Creek Veterinary Hospital at 5902 Homestead Road. “Owners need a place to board their pets, but we can do only a minimal amount here. The closest kennels are in Roanoke or on Cook Road. This would have been a high-end facility, but I can't keep mowing and paying taxes on a vacant lot.”
So why did Cawood's second attempt, supported by many neighbors and opposed by others, meet such a vastly different fate than its predecessor? The answers are as confusing as they are enlightening, illustrating why city and county officials are rightly working to improve the performance and predictability of the development process.
Perhaps the chief difference, city planner and BZA Secretary Paul Blisk said, was the 22,500-square-foot, two-story building that was not part of Cawood's original proposal. Cawood's 2006 plan envisioned only an outdoor “dog park” operated by a not-for-profit entity, but the approval was revoked a year later when Cawood could not secure the necessary funding. That change, Blisk said, meant Cawood could no longer seek approval for a “special use” of his residentially zoned property, as he successfully did six years ago.
Instead, Cawood given the option of trying to have his property rezoned – a potentially difficult challenge – or of seeking a “use variance,” the approval of which depends in part on the project's on the use and value of adjkacent properties.
And so when the board ultimately concluded that the proposed building – which Cawood said could have accommodate as many as 50 dogs and 20 cats – was “very large and out of scale with the surrounding homes and developments,” Cawood's case was in serious jeopardy.
But here's the thing: That building, which was designed to complement Cawood's existing clinic – doesn't seem to have been the chief object of neighbors' concerns. Several letters of opposition cited the fear of odors, noise, animal waste and other problems created by the proposed outdoor facility -- roughly the same facility the BZA previously approved.
I don't mean to be too critical of the BZA or Cawood's opponents. Planners feared the project could bring other commercial proposals to the largely residential area, and even though his clinic is meticulously maintained – my three cats are patients there – homeowners can't be blamed for protecting their own perceived best interests.
But Cawood shouldn't be faulted for protecting his or his customers' interests, either, especially when he says he tried to address neighbors' concerns by limiting the proposed park to private members and by operating only during certain hours and with minimal nighttime lighting.
That didn't stop some opponents from making it personal, however – even if some of their concerns were unfounded.
One nearby resident wrote the BZA saying “I doubt that I will be able to continue as a (Cawood) client in light of the apparently selfish and completely inconsiderate request for this proposed new business venture. There is a hospice facility 100 yards from the proposed site. Seriously?
“How absolutely disrespectful.”
That would come as news to Phyllis Hermann, CEO of the Visiting Nurse & Hospice Home at 5910 Homestead Drive, who was one of hundreds of people who supported what Cawood wanted to do. And for good reason: She had hoped to collaborate with Cawood on a program called “Pet Peace of Mind,” which would have provided companionship and comfort to her terminally ill patients by allowing them to board their pets next door at a reduced rate.
So it seems that not even death or the taxes his facility and its 10 full-time employees would have paid was enough to overcome concerns that were legitimate but probably could have been addressed through proper design, operating requirements and city oversight.
The irony is that Cawood, who hasn't decided whether to appeal the BZA's decision, remains free to develop his three vacant acres in ways neighbors might find even more objectionable.
“With residential zoning, I could put in (subsidized) housing. It's nuts,” he said.