There was a packed house during the Monday, January 23, Harlem Township Board of Zoning Appeals public hearing for an application by Homewood Corporation seeking a conditional use permit in an area zoned AR-1 (Agricultural/Residential) on behalf of Rescue Me to build a 12,000-square-foot animal shelter and boarding kennel for dogs on 22 acres in Harlem Township.
The kennel’s proposed purpose is to bring in and short-term quarantine dogs rescued from under-financed and overwhelmed shelters in Ohio, primarily from southern counties, before releasing the dogs to the Capital Area Humane Society to be put up for adoption.
The kennel and shelter, if approved, would be built along SR 605 South of Gorsuch Road. The project is a collaboration between the Trinity Fund, established by George Skestos within the Columbus Foundation and the Capital Area Humane Society.
Many nearby residents object to the shelter’s location, saying a more appropriate site would not be close to a residential neighborhood. Objections range from noise of barking dogs to a stretch of the zoning code that would allow the facility at that location.
Tom Nied, a local resident, spoke in opposition to the proposed facility.
“Homewood wants to bring in 40 shelter dogs a week, under quarantine, to a part of the township where 95 families live and raise their kids,” Nied said. “We have no problem with rescue dogs. We do have a problem with Homewood twisting the meaning of the township Zoning Resolution, which clearly prohibits this sort of quarantine station in an area zoned for agriculture and single-family residences.”
Nied and others attending the public hearing said because of the facility’s quarantine and triage nature, complete with two veterinary operating theaters, it qualifies as an animal medical facility.
“Dog shelters and animal medical centers like this are always located in commercial areas,” Nied continued. “Why is Homewood fighting to jam this center into a residential neighborhood? You have to question their motives.”
Jim Lipnos, Homewood President, said Homewood is committed in writing to development standards that will ensure a building that fits the rural residential character of the area.
“The collaboration with the Capital Area Humane Society will mean a quality, state-of-the-art animal shelter operation that will save over one thousand dogs from being euthanized due to lack of funding,” Lipnos said in a statement released following the January 23 public hearing.
Lipnos said the facility would not be open to the public, but will be a private operation intended to handle overflow dogs from other shelters.
“The dogs will be given routine checks, shots, and behavioral evaluations,” Lipnos said. “Homewood has committed to fencing outdoor recreation areas, noise abatement measures, providing supervision and oversight for the dogs, and daytime business hours of operation.”
Lipnos also noted that there will be landscaping and conservative exterior lighting, adding that many adjacent neighbors attending the January 23 meeting spoke in favor of the proposal.
“In addition to strong development standards, Homewood and Rescue Me have committed to providing internships for local and college students interested in learning more about animals and pursuing careers in animal care,” Lipnos said.
Also speaking for Homewood was Homewood’s attorney, Laura McGregor Comek of Comek Law; and monitoring the situation on behalf of the township was Delaware County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Andrew King.
McGregor Comek said the proposed kennel is not a medical facility; that medical care would be limited to immunizations and minor rehabilitation procedures.
“We are planning to build an animal shelter and a boarding unit,” McGregor Comek said. “This will not look institutional, and a kennel is an allowable conditional use in AR-1 under your code.”
McGregor Comek also noted that a traffic study completed by EMH&T determined that there would be less intense traffic from the facility than if the acreage were used as a residential subdivision.
The BZA will reconvene at 7 p.m. on Monday, February 20, at the Harlem Township Hall and Fire Station, 3883 State Route 605, south of Center Village Road. BZA Chair Keith Campbell said members of the BZA would receive legal advice from Andrew King prior to deliberations during an open meeting on that date. During that meeting members of the BZA would have the option to deny the application, approve the application, or table the application for further discussion.
Reporter Lenny C. Lepola can be reached at 614-266-6093.