We don't just cover the North Bay. We live here.
Did You Know? In the first 10 days of the North Bay fire, nearly 1.5 million people used their mobile devices to visit our sites.
Already a subscriber?
Wow! You read a lot!
Reading enhances confidence, empathy, decision-making, and overall life satisfaction. Keep it up! Subscribe.
Already a subscriber?
Oops, you're out of free articles.
Until next month, you can always look over someone's shoulder at the coffee shop.
Already a subscriber?
We don't just cover the North Bay. We live here.
Did You Know? In the first 10 days of the North Bay fire, we posted 390 stories about the fire. And they were shared nearly 137,000 times.
Already a subscriber?
Supporting the community that supports us.
Obviously you value quality local journalism. Thank you.
Already a subscriber?
Oops, you're out of free articles.
We miss you already! (Subscriptions start at just 99 cents.)
Already a subscriber?

The "Follow This Story" feature will notify you when any articles related to this story are posted.

When you follow a story, the next time a related article is published — it could be days, weeks or months — you'll receive an email informing you of the update.

If you no longer want to follow a story, click the "Unfollow" link on that story. There's also an "Unfollow" link in every email notification we send you.

This tool is available only to subscribers; please make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.


Please note: This feature is available only to subscribers; make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

Supporters and opponents of a hotly contested dog kennel project near Oakmont are set to clash again Tuesday, this time before the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, which will make a final decision over the project's fate.

The proposed expansion of Meadows Kennel, off Highway 12 north of Oakmont Drive, has drawn fire from some neighbors who claim the additional dogs -#8212; the number would go from 10 dogs to a maximum of 35 and allow overnight boarding -#8212; could shatter their peace and quiet and harm property values.

They appealed the project's unanimous approval last year at a packed, three-hour hearing of the county Board of Zoning Adjustments, sending the project to the Board of Supervisors.

"The increased traffic delays and risks at this intersection created by this business" won't be borne by supporters but by neighbors, attorney Bob Haroche, representing three nearby residents, wrote in a letter to the supervisors last week. "Nor the unwelcome sound of dogs barking less than 100 feet away at sirens from a passing emergency vehicle, something that on average happens three times a day."

But supporters say fears of snarled traffic and the din of barking dogs are unfounded. The business is a good neighbor providing a valuable service to pet owners in the nearby senior community, they say.

"We've got no complaints" about the kennel, said Oakmont resident Richard Cox, whose house sits on a hill across Highway 12, overlooking the business.

The kennel is situated on a three-acre parcel on the east side of the highway and down a private lane called Richards Road.

Owner Heidi Niemann "has done nothing but improve the visual aspect of the place," Cox said.

The kennel dispute is just the latest county proposal to stir divisions in the upscale and politically influential community on Santa Rosa's eastern edge.

While winery developments and large commercial outlets remain the most hot-button projects countywide, Oakmont residents have tangled over much smaller plans.

Three years ago, the fight was over a Verizon Wireless cellphone tower approved by the county on a nursery property just to the south. Opponents said it would mar views in the area, harm property values and present an environmental and health hazard.

Some of the same allegations and fears color the debate over the kennel.

Niemann opened the business in her home off Richards Road in 2011 with no opposition from neighbors, but she was only taking dogs for daytime care, with no overnight boarding.

Almost immediately, Oakmont residents began asking her to take overnight boarders since there was no nearby kennel to house their pets while residents were on vacation or experiencing medical problems.

Her request to expand the business caused a furor in the area, with hundreds of area residents weighing in either for or against the expansion. The input, in dozens of letters and emails, resulted in a package of correspondence for the zoning board that was nearly 200 pages and more than an inch thick.

Some residents said the kennel is a vital service for the dog-loving neighborhood.

Dozens of others, including the officers of the three Oakmont homeowners associations closest to the kennel, however, came out against the project, echoing the concerns of Niemann's nearest neighbors.

"Currently the Oakmont homeowners hear barking dogs every day (and the current permit is only for 10 dogs, in the daytime)," the heads of the Meadowridge, Mesa Oaks and Quail Run homeowners associations wrote to the county. "We feel the current noise impact is sufficient to lower the property values and compromise the peace and quiet residents expect from living in Oakmont."

Opponents filed an appeal as soon as the zoning board approved the expansion, setting the stage for Tuesday's hearing.

Niemann and county planning staff say the complaints are misdirected. If anything, they argue, traffic from her business will go down, since long-term overnight boarders require fewer car trips than the current business, where owners are dropping off and picking up dogs every day.

Niemann also says there will be no additional barking noise. She has agreed to limit the number of dogs that are allowed outside at one time, to keep them in small groups under close supervision by staff, and to limit the hours during which they can play outside. She also has added soundproofing to the indoor kennel area, where dogs would stay overnight.

County staff say the measures she proposes are similar to kennels in other parts of the county, and those businesses have experienced no noise complaints.

Niemann has voluntarily agreed to make changes to the property costing around $120,000, said her attorney Bradley Hindley.

"She's done countless things to accommodate the perceived concerns of the neighbors," he said.

Neighbors, however, remain unmoved. In a letter to the county last year, next-door neighbor Tammi Bernd complained bitterly about the proposal, describing it as a "desecration" of the semi-rural neighborhood.

"The fact is that where there are dogs, there's going to be barking," she wrote.

Neighborhood resident Tim Badger, who is not part of the appeal but opposes the expansion, agrees.

"I was just outside stacking wood and I could hear dogs barking" even from more than 2,000 feet away, he said Friday.

He too worries about traffic, saying the road access -#8212; a two-lane highway with no left-turn lane for those coming from Santa Rosa -#8212; is ripe for serious accidents, particularly given the older clientele from Oakmont.

"It is just not a good situation," he said.

County planners, however, say the highway has a lower accident rate than similar stretches of highway around the state. Niemann has also agreed to require her customers not to take left turns across traffic when coming or going, but instead to make right turns only and use nearby intersections to make safe U-turns.

Niemann and Hindley also dismiss the noise complaints. The area has a high percentage of dog owners and they say opponents are blaming every possible barking noise on her operation.

Hindley said some complaints raised by opponents were during nights and weekends, when there are no kennel dogs, only Niemann's own personal dog. Other complaints have come from so far away that there is no way the noise could be coming from Meadows Kennel, Hindley said.

"They may be hearing dogs barking," he said, "but it is not coming from here."

Show Comment