Cody Walker loves dogs. In fact, he and his wife plan to adopt one soon.
But he doesn’t want a dog adoption center built in a farm field along River Road/Route 441, across from his Bainbridge home.
He fears that dozens of barking dogs will disturb the quiet, peaceful lives of the 11 families living in a row of mostly duplex homes along River Road known as “The Ridge.”
Walker and other neighbors have attended recent meetings of the Conoy Township supervisors and the township planning commission, questioning plans to construct the Almost Home Dog Adoption Center, a 19,113-square-foot facility that would house up to 66 dogs.
“We’re all dog lovers and God bless them for what they do. But we just wish they would build it in a different spot,” said Walker, who also fears declining property values.
Walker suggested that the group consider buying the former Penny Meadows Farm Kennels on Governor Stable Road, Bainbridge. Co-owner Richard Powell said the 15-acre property will be going up for sale.
But the land along River Road is zoned agricultural. Since a kennel is a permitted use in that zoning district, there may be little neighbors can do, except voice their concerns.
Among those speaking out are two of Walker’s neighbors, son-in-law Peter Cairo and Matt Bell, also dog owners.
“This is going to have a very significant negative impact on a lot of people’s lives. And they just don’t seem to care,” Cairo said of the plan’s proponents.
“I would love to know how they are gonna keep 60 barking dogs quiet,” said Bell.
Attempts to contact Almost Home representatives to learn more about the organization and its plans were unsuccessful. Also, no response was received from Ken Rice of Lebanon; land development documents show him as the purchaser of the 17-acre plot from Steven and Susan Mutchler.
That plot and the adjoining 22.618-acres are listed for sale by High Associates for a total of $792,360.
Steven Mutchler is a member of the township planning commission, but he must recuse himself from planning commission deliberations about the matter.
The planning commission will review the plans at its public meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 5, and plans will be discussed at the supervisors’ Dec. 14 meeting. Center representatives are expected to attend both meetings, at 7 p.m. at the township building, 211 Falmouth Road, Bainbridge.
The proposed center received approval at the July supervisors’ meeting to install holding tanks at the site for wastewater disposal. The vote was 3-1; Supervisor Gina Mariani cast the no vote, citing noise concerns.
The planning commission discussed the proposed nonprofit center at its meeting in September, with adoption center representatives present. Walker, Bell and Cairo, who also attended, felt they didn’t get much information.
“Not one single one of us got our questions answered,” said Bell, who also worries about event crowds, increased traffic and vehicle visibility, and whether firefighters would be equipped to deal with the dogs in case of a fire.
Supervisor Chairman Stephen Mohr, also a planning commission member, said he was told that most dogs would come from out of state, and the facility wouldn’t take local dogs.
Cairo and Bell claimed that Almost Home sought input from only two Ridge households but initially made it sound like more were contacted. All the households, plus other area residents, have signed petitions opposing the plan, they said.
As for the building, architect Mark Schillaci said the cost hasn’t been calculated yet. The structure will have some type of soundproofing, he said.
The three neighbors aren’t convinced that the center will have adequate noise control. Walker works at a welding shop near the Harrisburg Humane Society, and “I hear these dogs barking all day long,” he stated.
Potential barking, however, cannot be considered by the planning commission, or the supervisors, in determining whether the project meets the requirements of the subdivision and land development ordinance and the storm water ordinance, according to township solicitor Matthew Creme Jr.
“The noise from barking dogs is regulated by a separate ordinance, the dog ordinance,” Creme said. (The township doesn’t have a noise ordinance.)
But, he added, “Everyone in the township who owns a dog is subject to the dog ordinance,” and the kennel would be considered the dogs’ owner. The ordinance prohibits “continuous or excessive” barking.
As Walker noted, “They haven’t broken the ordinance because it’s not built yet.”
After so many citations, a property can be declared a nuisance and have to cease operations until the problem is addressed, Mohr said.
Mohr explained that if the planning commission recommends the project and there is no conditional use request, the supervisors are not required to vote. (The township zoning hearing board hears requests for variances, but Mohr is not aware of any.)
“They’re not asking for anything other than what they’re permitted to do,” said Mohr, who is also concerned about noise.
However, citizens, and supervisors, can ask questions at the upcoming meetings and emphasize to the applicant what the requirements are, Mohr said.
As Mohr asked, “Do they want to jeopardize their investment in an area where they can’t meet the stringent noise requirement (per the dog ordinance)?”