In a victory for neighbors but a setback for pet owners in new downtown apartments, Overland Park denied a permit for a pet boarding facility and day care with outdoor play area close to downtown.
The facility proposed for 7620 Metcalf Avenue, would have been a second location for Two Dogs and a Cat, owned by John Cavalcanti. He said afterward he would start looking for a different location rather than remove the outdoor play area, which had been the main sticking point.
Council members took an hour and a half and four votes to turn the project down. Several neighbors, who had filed a valid protest petition, also waited through to the end of an otherwise long meeting to urge denial vote.
“Pretty much everybody, including Mr. Cavalcanti, would stand up here and be in my shoes if it was going across the street from his house,” said Matt Van Becelaere, who owns property nearby.
The area in question is a mixture, with some businesses and homes. The neighbors live across Floyd Street, some within 200 feet of the play area.
Cavalcanti had asked for a five-year special use permit to allow overnight boarding and the outdoor play area, which would have been buffered with a solid wall of about nine feet. The facility would have a capacity for 90 animals, but Cavalcanti said only around 20 to 25 would be outside in the play area at any one time.
He stressed that well-trained staff assess dogs for aggression before allowing them in the play zone. The barking is also curbed by the wall because it limits the dogs’ visual triggers, and classical music is played to soothe them as well, he said.
Still neighbors doubted that the dogs in the outdoor area would be quiet. They worried about being able to open their windows in warm weather or that the barking would trigger their own dogs to bark.
Several council members said they did some freelance research on the subject by visiting other dog facilities to listen for noise. Based on that, some council members sided with the neighbors. “I don’t agree with the applicant that those dogs are not going to bark,” said Councilmember Paul Lyons. “I’ve never seen 25 dogs together not making a bunch of noise.”
“I would not want to live across the street and listen to that,” said Councilmember Terry Happer Scheier. “I had a dog next door for years that drove me frickin’ insane, barked every time I walked in the back yard. I know what it’s like.”
However Councilmember Jim Kite, who noise-tested a pet facility by driving past its outdoor play yard with his own dog leaning out the car window, said he heard no barking response. There are permit rules already in place to deal with neighborhood complaints, he said, and Cavalcanti knows it’s in his best interest to keep the neighbors happy. “I think we could make this work,” Kite said.
Those thoughts were echoed by Dale Griffin, owner of the building the pet facility would be moving into. Griffin also noted five units in that building have been vacant for about a year.
While council members sided with the neighbors, they also acknowledged that there will be a need for more pet friendly facilities once the new downtown apartments fill up. Market Lofts, The Vue, Avenue 80 and 81 and Interurban Lofts will start an influx of pet owners to the suddenly more densely-populated downtown. By Cavalcanti’s reckoning, there will be potentially about 600 new pets moving into the area.
The city should start looking at its pet infrastructure because of that, said Councilmember Logan Heley. There are relatively few pet boarding facilities near downtown, and dog parks are also a drive away. “Do we know what our dog policy is going to be at Thompson Park? What facilities will be at Thompson Park for pets? These are some things I hope we’re thinking about in a broader context.”
Some council members told Cavalcanti they like his business, but thought the location close to homes was a bad choice. A few asked if he’d be willing to open the business without the outdoor area or on only a two-year permit, but he declined, saying the outdoor area is central to keeping the dogs on good behavior.
The council briefly got hung up on procedural issues before turning the permit down. Because of the protest petition, they needed 10 votes to approve it. Overturning the planning commission’s prior approval required nine votes. After a few tries, they denied it, 9-2.