Over some howls of protest, Mount Airy officials have OK’d a zoning change that will permit a “hotel” for dogs and cats to operate downtown.
The official wording of the measure approved unanimously by the city board of commissioners Thursday night refers to kennels now being allowed in the B-1 (central business district) zone for the first time. But information presented during a public hearing preceding this action indicated that the facility now at hand will not involve a cage full of barking dogs, which some might associate with kennels.
“I don’t like to call it a kennel,” Greg Bell of the Bark and Meow pet business on North Main Street said of its planned addition of the Grand Pup Resort Hotel & Spa.
Instead of the stereotypical kennel, Bell described the new facility as an “indoor luxury” establishment for dogs and cats.
“Each dog has its own air-conditioned room,” Mayor David Rowe concurred at one point during Thursday night’s public hearing for purposes of clarification.
Bell said the facility also will contain a green space, or park, where animals can be taken for fresh air and to do their business. He added that this space also will be open to pet owners living in nearby condominium units and those who walk their dogs downtown.
“That park is going to be beautiful,” Bell pledged.
The hotel facility will be fully staffed with 15 to 20 people to look after the animals — which represent new jobs for downtown — and monitored by surveillance 24 hours a day, the Bark and Meow official said.
Bell said it has received the endorsements of Dr. Mark Hauser, a local veterinarian who will help oversee the operation, and the Surry Animal Rescue organization.
Despite the image of an animal version of Shangri-La painted by Bell, others who spoke at the hearing were not convinced that downtown Mount Airy is a good fit for the kennel/hotel.
Neither indoor or outdoor kennels are permitted in the central business districts of any other area municipality, city Planning Director Andy Goodall said in outlining the Bark and Meow zoning change request. And before Thursday night, kennels were allowed only in industrial areas of Mount Airy.
That was focused on by some of the hearing speakers.
“I just think it’s a bad location,” said Danny Speer, one person who spoke.
“I don’t think this is going to assist in what downtown’s becoming,” Speer added of the kennel/hotel presence.
This was echoed by another citizen, Paul Eich.
“I don’t find it appropriate,” Eich said of the facility being located downtown.
He also found it interesting that Mount Airy was considering permitting what no other area municipality has and changing its zoning regulations for the central business district “on behalf of only one property owner.”
Eich further expressed concern about odors possibly coming from the animal park and John Pritchard, another person who commented during the hearing, said dogs now can be heard barking at the pet store from the street.
Another Bark and Meow representative said from the audience that each person will be responsible for cleaning up after his or her pet using the park, similar to how golfers are expected to repair divots on the course.
“I played golf today, and not too many people picked up their divots,” Goodall, the planning director, said in response to that — drawing laughter from the audience.
He said the Mount Airy Planning Board, which studied the proposal before it reached the commissioners, had recommended a slew of provisions in the language of the revised ordinance to protect surrounding property owners from kennel-related problems.
“This has been a tricky one,” Goodall said of crafting regulations to accommodate the new facility while also safeguarding residents of the downtown area.
This includes buffer, noise and other requirements, and a limit of no more than 20 animals housed at a time.
Such kennels also will be allowed in other business zones in the city under Thursday night’s action.
City council members were impressed by what’s envisioned with the Bark and Meow operation.
“I like the looks of this — I’ve been in there and toured it,” Commissioner Shirley Brinkley said of the facility.
Commissioner Dean Brown agreed.
“You should see the space these animals have,” Brown said. “It’s not a kennel.”
Brown also applauded the economic-development aspect involved with the creation of 20 new jobs.
“We are desperate,” he said regarding the local employment situation.
“Twenty people is a good number,” Brown said of those to be hired, adding that such an addition is always “a very positive thing.”
Brown also said this is occurring at what previously was an empty building.
Commissioner Jon Cawley took aim at criticism of Mount Airy entering uncharted waters by allowing a downtown kennel/hotel enterprise.
“I do understand that not everybody is for everything,” Cawley said.
“But to try to stop them from doing this,” he said of Bark and Meow operators, “is something I can’t get my head around.”
He pointed out that private property is involved along with a business opportunity afforded by the kennel/hotel.
“Obviously, there’s a demand for it — what’s there not to love about it?” Cawley said.
Brinkley also relayed her experience with tourists during a former job at Holiday Inn Express.
“People travel with their pets,” she said, mentioning that the new facility downtown will provide a place for them to be kept while owners visit attractions in the area.
“These are things we have to think about.”
Also Thursday night, the commissioners made two appointments to the Mount Airy Parks and Recreation Commission, an advisory group to the city council on those topics.
Linda Wright was reappointed to a three-year term that will end on May 31, 2019.
Rob Sinton was appointed as a new member to the recreation group to replace Shep Brannock, whose term expires on May 31 and is not eligible for reappointment.
Sinton, also approved for a three-year term to end on May 31, 2019, is a Vietnam veteran, retired teacher and former collegiate swimmer who has lived in Mount Airy with his family for about 12 years, according to biographical information provided to the board.
He has volunteered as a swim coach with Special Olympics, assisted with swimming lessons for youths and adults and volunteered with other organizations including Surry Animal Rescue, Habitat for Humanity and Hospice.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.