The Loxahatchee Groves Town Council approved a resolution Tuesday to allow Big Dog Ranch Rescue to locate on 33 acres at the southeast corner of Okeechobee Blvd. and D Road.
The decision, which came after an hours-long discussion, was on a 3-1 vote with Councilman Ryan Liang opposed. Councilman Jim Rockett recused himself because a relative owns property south of the site.
Town Attorney Michael Cirullo pointed out that it was a quasi-judicial hearing and the applicant and staff both would have 30 minutes to make presentations. Members of the public had a maximum of three minutes to speak. About 50 people spoke both for and against the project.
During his presentation, attorney Marty Perry said Big Dog had spent a great deal of time and money to get approval and made numerous significant changes in the plan.
“We believe we have submitted documentation demonstrating that we are consistent with the comprehensive plan, that we meet all of the requirements of your various ordinances, including the dog rescue provisions that you have, and we think that you’ll agree with that,” he said.
Perry pointed out that they had held public workshops in an effort to dispel the thought that the Big Dog proposal would be similar in nature to the existing Big Dog facility.
“That is unfortunate in a lot of ways, and we will be presenting to you videos of both the existing facility and the Peggy Adams facility, which is the closest thing locally to what we propose to do,” he said. “What we propose is a state-of-the-art facility that will address the concerns expressed relative to noise, relative to fecal matter, relative to all of the other issues of concern to adjoining neighbors, and we think we have done a comprehensive job of doing that.”
Perry added that some concerns had been raised about the potential of having a veterinarian available to the public for weekend and emergency services, and Big Dog had withdrawn that idea.
“We thought that would be beneficial to the community, but if it causes concern about this site being considered to be commercial, we won’t do that,” he said.
Landscape architect Jeff Brophy with the Wantman Group, which has been the planner for the new Big Dog site, pointed out that the council had approved rescued animal care facilities as a permitted use, and they had met all the requirements, with 49 conditions of approval including noise, odor and hours of operation. “We redesigned the site although it met the requirements of code,” Brophy said, adding that they had taken suggestions from an open house the town held with residents in March and redesigned the plan.
Brophy said the present site on Acme Road in a county enclave near Wellington used to be the home of the Folke Peterson Wildlife Refuge and Big Dog Ranch Rescue has different requirements that cannot be accommodated due to its nonconforming status there.
The existing structures are covered but not enclosed, which, he said, is the reason for the noise issues that have arisen. The dogs at the new facility will be housed inside except for daily exercise and socialization.
Brophy also pointed out that the town’s minimum acreage requirement of 10 acres was exceeded, with more than 33 acres. He added that the new site would meet all conditions of approval for waste disposal, and that the number of dogs kept there would comply with county standards.
The proposed site will also meet the minimum setback requirement of 200 feet for dog runs, which would have opaque fences to minimize barking outside. The architecture will meet the town’s guidelines.
Concern was also raised that an unused 10-acre portion of the site might be sold off eventually and used for another purpose, so they spread the design out to incorporate that section.
To minimize noise, Big Dog plans to use cement block walls, a cement slab, a wooden truss roof, impact-rated windows, steel doors, ventilation with noise attenuation, a special air-conditioning system and special interior ceilings, setbacks and additional landscaping material. “We actually spread out the site plan along Okeechobee, taking away that frontage, placing dogs in the northwest part of the site,” Brophy said, adding that the number of dogs will be about 15 dogs per acre, compared with Peggy Adams’ approximately 56 animals per acre.
He added that they had heard complaints that Big Dog, being a nonprofit, would not pay taxes to the town, and volunteered to make a $7,000 annual contribution to go toward paving its portion of D Road with open-graded emulsified mix (OGEM) and continue the annual payment after that is paid off.
They also have dedicated an easement for a 15-foot horse trail along Okeechobee and D Road in response to equestrian requests.
Hours of operation and when the public can come will be from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day, with the entrance on Okeechobee Blvd.
Councilman Tom Goltzené asked about turn lanes on Okeechobee Blvd., and Perry said they are dedicating that easement, although they did not feel turn lanes are necessary.
Regarding dog waste management, Big Dog Ranch Rescue President Lauree Simmons said all the dog runs and play yards would be synthetic grass with 12 inches of pea rock underneath, and would have sand underneath with a liner to carry drainage to a sewer.
Goltzené also asked whether they would continue to monitor for noise, and Perry said they would, and anticipated results better than Peggy Adams, which has had no complaints about noise and has 750 dogs on 13 acres. “Everything we do here will be pointed at satisfying that,” Perry said.
Town Planning Consultant Jim Fleischmann noted that town staff had recommended approval of the project, the Planning & Zoning Board had recommended approval unanimously Jan. 22 subject to conditions.
Fleischmann also pointed out that the project is less than a third of the maximum allowable building area and had met all compatibility requirements for impacts on the neighboring community, with buffers and landscaping. He said the project is expected to generate about 84 vehicular trips per day.
Resident Michael Piesley, a neighbor to the site, said he was concerned that Big Dog would infringe on his personal property use and safety. “I worked hard to create a serene environment,” he said, adding that he would be able to see the shelter from the front door of his home.
Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office Major Dan Smith said Big Dog has been a good partner in taking care of dogs the department finds that have been mistreated. “For us, it’s a good cause, and we support it,” Smith said.
Colleen Choquette spoke in favor of the shelter. “I’m in support of this coming into the community,” Choquette said. “It’s a wonderful cause.”
Planning & Zoning Board Member Grace Joyce pointed out that they had done their due diligence and approved the application unanimously. “We all went through it, and there was no participation from the community,” she said. “I was there; the committee was there. We went through the process, and no one came to the meetings. As an unpaid volunteer board, we came up with suggestions and conditions of approval. When feelings are taken into consideration, what happened with the Day property will happen here.”
Goltzené said that there are dogs that roam the streets because people come from outside town to dump them. At the same time, local residents’ dogs get out and they wind up being picked up by Animal Care & Control, forcing the owner to pay large fees to get them back. He asked if Big Dog could help out with that and work with Animal Care & Control to take local dogs and get them back to their owners.
Perry said they would be happy to work with Animal Care & Control on recovering local animals.
Goltzené also asked to clarify offers about the turn lane easements and whether Big Dog would be willing to have them paved with asphalt. “I would like to see a road that is done right,” he said.
Developer Brian Tuttle, representing Big Dog, said they would be willing to make a $100,000 contribution toward improvement of the intersection. “We’ll make a $100,000 donation to the town, and you do what you want with it,” Tuttle said.
Mayor Dave Browning said he was disappointed that town staff had not told the council that the county had passed a regulation that no commercial kennels would be allowed in agricultural residential areas. “I’m disappointed with Big Dog Ranch; everybody said this was the perfect location, but Palm Beach County said it wasn’t,” Browning said. “Not knowing what the county did, we approved something that I didn’t feel fit in our community.”
Browning said he intended to hold Big Dog to all the promises they had made, including adherence to noise control.
Jarriel made a motion to approve the resolution, which carried 3-1 with Liang opposed.