The Board of Supervisors last week elected new leadership and opted to pursue allowing three dogs by right in residentially zoned areas.
At the start of the board’s Jan. 13 meeting, Midlothian District Supervisor Dan Gecker was appointed board chairman, and Dale District Supervisor Jim Holland was appointed vice chairman.
Later, Glenn Larson, assistant director of the county’s Department of Planning and Zoning, said the current zoning ordinance defines a “private kennel” as three or more dogs, more than four months old, kept for private use on residentially zoned property. The Board of Zoning appeals must grant a special exception for a private kennel, and the application fee for that exception is currently $1,000, he said. A proposed ordinance amendment would reduce the application fee to $100, Larson said.
The Planning Commission has recommended denial of the ordinance, he said, and as an alternative has recommended changing the special exception process to a conditional use process with a two-tier fee, $250 for three dogs, $1,000 for four to nine dogs. The conditional use process would involve the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors, rather than the BZA.
Several speakers during the public hearing on the fee reduction urged the board to lower the application cost or raise the number of dogs owners can keep by right on residentially zoned property.
“I think $1,000 is a bit too much to pay for three animals,” Linda Davis said. Surrounding counties allow three dogs by right, she said, and she can’t understand why Chesterfield County only allows two.
In the United States last year, people spend $45 billion on their pets, she said. If people have three dogs, they have to buy even more dog-related products, she said, and what the county might lose on the special exception fee it would make up in sales tax.
After the hearing, Matoaca District Supervisor Marlene Durfee asked when the fee was set at $1,000. Larson said the fee was set many years ago, certainly before 2000, but he didn’t know the history of the fee adjustment.
Durfee asked what fee would be a reasonable amount. Larson said $250 would cover the basic costs associated with such an application.
Vice Chairman Jim Holland said he thought $1,000 was probably too much, and he thought the fee should be “revenue neutral.”
“I don’t think we should use fees to penalize citizens who love dogs,” he said.
Clover Hill District Supervisor Art Warren said three dogs was OK with him. He said he thought the BZA did a wonderful job in handling these issues, which get very emotional. Also, he said, a $250 made more sense than a $100 or $1,000 fee.
Bermuda District Supervisor Dorothy Jaeckle asked whether there were a reason the Planning Commission didn’t consider just raising the number of dogs allowed by right to three, like other localities. Larson said there was not an extensive discussion about raising the number of dogs allowed.
The BZA hears “about 15 of these special exception cases every year, and a lot of those are based on complaints,” he said. In fiscal 2009, the code compliance staff investigated about 90 complaints related to three or more dogs, he said.
Chairman Dan Gecker said he would be prepared to raise the number of dogs allowed by right to three, but he didn’t think the board should be having the fee discussion in a vacuum. He said he wanted to see how the fee fit into the overall framework of BZA fees.
Gecker suggested the board send it back “with the idea it’s time to look at the BZA fees in total and to look at raising the dogs by right to three.” Holland said he agreed.
The board unanimously denied lowering the fee from $1,000 to $100. The board set a public hearing on the Planning Commission’s proposal to require a conditional use process for private kennels for Feb. 10.
With the advertisement of that change, Gecker said, the board could increase the number of dogs by right to three and at the same time leave the application process with the BZA. The one thing it couldn’t do is change the fee at that time, he said.