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.