Big Dog Ranch Rescue led an informational meeting for Loxahatchee Groves residents and community leaders on Tuesday at the Central Palm Beach County Chamber of Commerce building, outlining plans to build a new facility for the nonprofit organization at Okeechobee Blvd. and D Road.
Big Dog officials explained that the current facility in Acme Ranches is a former wildlife sanctuary and not well suited for use as a dog shelter.
“Unfortunately, where we are right now, we moved into a wildlife preserve,” Big Dog President Lauree Simmons said. “Fifty percent of the kennels have roofs on them, but they’re open-air chain-link. When you have a dog caged and you walk by that dog when it’s caged, it’s going to bark.”
She explained that Palm Beach County would not allow Big Dog to rebuild the facility to suit its needs.
“We are an accessory use to the wildlife,” Simmons said. “We can only use four acres of the 28 acres that we have. We’re stuck with what was there. Our new place is not like that at all.”
She explained that the new facility would have cottage-like buildings to house the dogs, with fenced enclosures where the dogs are let out and supervised by attendants during the day. Although the site is 34 acres, the buildings would be on only 4 acres, mostly surrounded by thick vegetation.
Special Events & Marketing Manager Lauren Ellis said the new facility will be modeled after the Peggy Adams Animal Rescue facility, which is enclosed. “This is the same kind of building that we are planning,” Ellis said.
Director of Operations Jeff Jacob said the dogs tend to bark only when they are stimulated by someone walking by, and when they are in small groups.
“When they are in groups of 30 or more, they tend not to bark,” Jacob said. “You can come out to the ranch, and I’ll show you.”
Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District Supervisor John Ryan said noise should be the primary consideration for the approval.
“They would almost have to agree that if they put it in, then they would measure it every month for some period of time, and if it started getting too close to the boundary limits of our noise nuisance code, they’d agree to put in some additional noise-absorbing barriers,” Ryan said. “The good thing about the location is they don’t really have any residential people adjoining them.”
The neighbor to the east is Palm Beach County Fire-Rescue, while to the south is a nursery, and the property to the west and north is vacant.
During a recorded presentation, Jacob said that at the new facility, the dogs will live in air-conditioned “puppy pods.”
“They remain in the pods about 90 percent of the time,” he said.
Jim Lilli, director of operations at Peggy Adams Animal Rescue, said they operate on Military Trail in West Palm Beach, where they have good relations with their neighbors and have had no complaints about barking.
Jacob pointed out that the proposed Big Dog site is filled with and surrounded by lush vegetation and thousands of trees.
“It’s the perfect natural sound barrier,” he said, adding that the buildings at the new facility will be designed so that sound does not bleed out, including double doors to prevent noise from escaping when people are entering or leaving the building.
Simmons said the play yard will be at least 200 feet from the edge of the facility to the north and west, and a 20-foot landscape buffer will run completely around the property.
“Another thing we’ve done, because we heard some of you were concerned about noise, we had already consulted with a noise specialist when we were designing it, we went even further with the acoustic company,” she said. “Now we have, instead of chain-link fence around our play yards, we put the solid vinyl fencing up to 5 feet, and above that is going to be the lattice fencing… With that and with the shrubbery around those, and we’re so far away, you’re not going to hear anything.”
As for traffic, Simmons noted that Big Dog’s traffic pattern is scattered throughout the day. “It’s not like your churches where you have everybody piling in all at one time and everybody leaving at one time,” she said.
The planned entrance is on Okeechobee Blvd., but Councilman Ron Jarriel said a safer entrance would be on D Road.
“I look at what you could put back in our community,” Jarriel said, explaining that he would like the Big Dog Ranch Foundation to pave D Road with open-graded emulsified mix (OGEM) from Okeechobee Blvd. to their property, which is about 1,100 feet.
He also pointed out that there have been numerous accidents at Okeechobee and D Road.
“When you break ground, how fast is this going to move?” Jarriel asked. “First of all, we need to have a traffic light in to make it safer for you and everybody else who lives in Loxahatchee Groves.”
He also asked about allowance for equestrian uses along Okeechobee Blvd. and D Road.
Simmons said her caveat to that would be the possibility of having to cut trees along there.
“We want to add to that established, existing landscape,” she said. “We want it to be solid, as far as keeping it quiet for you.”
In 2013, the Loxahatchee Groves Town Council approved an ordinance that would allow Big Dog Ranch Rescue to locate on a site in the community, offering veterinarian services and dog boarding as accessory uses.
Big Dog applied initially for a site on Folsom Road but withdrew the application under pressure from neighbors concerned about noise.