by Jim Boyle
Members of the Elk River City Council are considering whether a .21-acre lot is big enough to have five large dogs and the conditional use permit that is needed when a property owner has a certain number of animals or animal units.
An applicant in the 18000 block of Albany Street is seeking a conditional use permit to allow for five pit bulls that equal 10 animal units because of their size, four more units than the six that trigger the need for a CUP for a private kennel.
The Elk River Planning Commission voted to deny the request, and some council members appear inclined to do the same.
But first they want Peter Beck, the city’s attorney, to consider a last-minute email from a medical provider noting the applicant warrants protections that come from the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Fair Housing Act, and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
The Planning Commission, an advisory panel to the City Council, based upon their feeling that the lot was too small at .21 acres for this many animal units (five dogs or 10 animal units) regardless of the kind of animal. They also expressed concern staff time could be gobbled up with neighborhood complaints.
They felt the adjacent homeowners’ enjoyment of their property could be diminished.
The property in question is a well-developed residential neighborhood on the northeast side of Lake Orono.
The owner of the dogs said there are no plans alter the property and it will remain a private household where the animals would be there 24 hours a day.
There are strong feelings on both sides of the issue in the neighborhood. Council members were given correspondence from quite a few on the matter, including multiple letters from one household that expressed sharp opposition to the CUP. Several letters of support for the applicant also emerged.
The Elk River Police Department has received complaints regarding the dogs on the subject parcel. In general, concerns have been related to the number of dogs, continued barking, fighting among the dogs, welfare of the dogs and other animals on site.
Aside from the applicant, no one spoke at the July 6 public hearing, which was opened and closed that night.
“My initial thought is it’s a rather small lot to keep five large dogs,” Council Member Matt Westgaard said. “It’s a little bit much given the specifics of this site.”
Westgaard also noted, however, he is struggling with the letter from a medical provider for the applicant that was received before the meeting.
Westgaard asked if city officials were obligated to approve the request. Beck, appearing via Zoom, said he would need some time to review the request in this new light. He had not seen yet seen the email.
Council members were also concerned if the matter was approved, would the CUP apply to anyone else who might purchase the property in the future? They prefer that it not.
Beck said an interim use permit could be considered, which would allowed as long it had reasonable conditions were attached to it. A CUP sticks with the property upon its sale from one owner to the next.
The council voted to continue to discussion to July 19 to give Beck a chance to review the matter and city staff a chance to speak with the applicant.
If an interim used permit is considered, the council would not charge the applicant for the IUP process but rather treat it as a continuation of the CUP process.
“I’m not ready until we know for sure,” Council Mike Beyer said.
That was the consensus of the council.