Colerain Township zoning board set aside its own regulations Wednesday by allowing an illegal commercial breeding kennel to continue doing business as usual - now with their approval.
"Myself, I'm inclined to allow it, but I know we could get hung on this," board Chairman Douglas Eaby said before the board unanimously voted to approve the business, Kauffman Kennels, at 352 Bell Road, Christiana.
Bennie E. Kauffman, of 358 Bell Road, needed a special exception and a variance for the three-man zoning hearing board to approve his kennel after the fact - he has operated the kennel for years without township approval.
The variance is required because his former-hog-house-turned-kennel has a 156-foot setback from a neighboring property - far short of the 500 feet required.
By township rules, to be granted the variance, Kauffman needed to show a hardship - a condition he couldn't meet through no fault of his own.
The board seemingly tried to help Kauffman make a case for hardship in their discussion, which took place after Solicitor Thomas I. Goodman directed the stenographer to "rest your fingers" and stop making a record of the otherwise public proceeding.
"Does it make a difference that there's no house over there (on the neighboring property)?" board member Lloyd Kreider asked Goodman.
"It makes a difference that there are no people complaining about (the kennel), but grounds for a traditional variance are not met," Goodman said.
A board member asked if the fact that Kauffman's kennel was already operating made a difference in allowing the variance.
"It was sort of there illegally," Goodman said. " … When they turned it into a kennel, I think they have to meet the setback requirement."
In fact, Goodman even questioned whether the building met setback requirements when it was built in 1978 and used as a hog barn.
In the end, the board approved the business anyway, with some conditions.
"The hardship would be that this is probably more profitable than hogs," Kreider joked at the end of the discussion.
After Goodman directed the stenographer to "go back on the record" to record the proceedings, the board and township Supervisor Scott E. Shoemaker, who attended the meeting, repeatedly emphasized that no township residents had ever lodged a complaint against Kauffman's kennel.
However, when Goodman asked for public comment on the business, Kauffman's neighbor, Karen Bowman, of 349 Bell Road, said she opposed approval of Kauffman's breeding business, which is licensed by the state to house up to 500 dogs, according to state records.
"I would not want any more businesses over there," Bowman told the board Wednesday. "We are zoned residential; they're agricultural. … The dogs make a racket, especially in the summer when the windows are open. I knew there were a lot of dogs over there, but I was surprised now to hear that it was that many."
A few minutes later, Shoemaker endorsed Kauffman's business.
"(The township supervisors) have nothing against it," he said. "The building is already there, and none of the neighbors ever complain about it. I think it's a good thing."
Kauffman said he currently houses 85 dogs in the barn, which is 128 feet by 30 feet.
Kauffman and his two sons, who both testified at the hearing but were not identified by name, said the kennel breeds Yorkshire terriers, Boston terriers, English bulldogs, cocker spaniels, Chihuahuas, "golden doodles" and Labrador retrievers, and he has one rottweiler. One of the Kauffmans testified that Bennie Kauffman occasionally sells dogs retail, but most of his puppies are sold wholesale to a Maryland dealer he declined to name.
Goodman also advised the board to refuse to allow members of United Against Puppy Mills to speak at the meeting and the board took that advice with this response from Eaby:
"As I've said on a number of occasions, you know what I'm going to say, but I won't say it. We'll accept your advice."
After the meeting, UAPM's Helen Ebersole said she was shocked at the board's disregard for its own regulations.
"(Kauffman) doesn't have to raise dogs. His hardship is self-imposed, but it didn't matter to this board," she said.
Kauffman's business was approved with some conditions: he may only incinerate or remove dead dogs from the premises - he may not bury or compost them; he may only sell wholesale and may not post any signs advertising his kennel business; he may house no more than 150 dogs at a time; and he must update his nutrient management plan to include dog waste.