- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
A former missile site at the northwestern edge of Charles County will be the future home of a veterinary clinic, animal shelter and, possibly, a kennel. While animal lovers and neighbors have praised the projects, residents of the nearby Friendship Estates subdivision worry that their neighborhood is going to the dogs.
Last Chance Animal Rescue takes in animals, mainly cats, that are on their way to euthanasia at other shelters. It currently has its shelter and Paw Prints Veterinary Clinic in central Waldorf, but the group purchased six acres facing Bensville Road to have its own space, Executive Director Cindy Sharpley said.
The group rescues between 6,000 and 8,000 pets a year, and the entire operation is indoors. Neighbors have no reason to worry, she said. The group will convert derelict military barracks into its new facility, a project that is still being designed. She isn’t sure how much it will cost or when its doors will open, “but it’s going to be beautiful when it’s done,” Sharpley said.
Vet clinics already were permitted on land in low-density residential zones, but the man who aspires to build a commercial kennel on a parcel adjacent to Last Chance’s future home had to change county zoning law.
John Middleton, owner of Farmstead Kennels in Clements, applied for a change to allow kennels to be built in low-density residential areas with a special exception from the Charles County Board of Appeals. His application was rejected by the Charles County Planning Commission on Feb. 27, but the Charles County commissioners overruled that decision June 19, changing the law after hearing from a parade of devoted Farmstead customers and from immediate neighbors of the proposed second Farmstead site.
The change opened the door for an application to the board of appeals, which will consider Middleton’s proposal Sept. 25. A few residents of nearby homes plan to attend that public hearing, and possibly to voice concerns about traffic, noise and light.
James Dashiell, president of the Friendship Estates Homeowners Association, issued a call to arms of sorts in last week’s edition of the neighborhood newsletter, which he writes and distributes. He urged residents to mark their calendars for the hearing.
Dashiell worries that Bensville Road can’t handle commercial traffic and that the projects are a vanguard for further commercial development. People already speed on the winding road, Dashiell said.
“The speed limit there is 40 miles per hour, but if you’re not doing more than 40 mph, they’re going to, one, run you off the road or, two, pass you on a double yellow line. … Bensville is a major drag strip in mornings and at night,” Dashiell said.
Shirley Perez spoke against the veterinary hospital before the Charles County Planning Commission, only to see that project approved. She lives just down Bensville Road from the projects and plans to attend the board of appeals meeting to oppose the kennel as well. She shared Dashiell’s worries about traffic but also wondered about light and noise from the facilities.
While notified about the clinic project, she said she never heard anything about the kennel.
“I’m just stunned by what has unfolded and [by] the lack of information. It’s just amazing to me. I know in Prince George’s County, whenever they’re going to do something they put those signs up to alert people that there’s going to be a public hearing. You have an opportunity. You know it’s coming. If you want to find out more about it you know how to do it,” Perez said.
Greg Johnson intends to join Perez and Dashiell at the hearing, saying he was also upset to have been notified by Dashiell rather than anyone involved with the project. While he supports “free enterprise,” he doesn’t think the Friendship Estates area is appropriate for commercial development, he said.
But Farmstead Kennels supporters say neighbors have nothing to worry about. The up to about 50 dogs and cats to be accommodated there would inhabit “luxury suites” inside, traffic will be light and feces will be picked up promptly and hauled away three times a week, Middleton said.
“Most people are under the impression, if it’s a kennel, it’s like a dog pound. It’s not. They have more. The suites, most of the dogs are indoors. When they go out for playtime, they’re not left out at night or late in the evenings or anything. All our neighbors close to us [in Clements] don’t have anything to complain about,” Middleton said.
The 6,000-square-foot building on the nine-acre parcel fills a community need; Waldorf residents already make the drive to Clements to board their dogs, so it made sense to build a location there, Middleton said. Charles County already has nine kennels, but “the facilities that are there now, they’re not nice. If you tour them, they’re not really upscale. … I figured if that many people would come all the way down here, all the people that were already up there would come up there [to a Waldorf kennel].”
Sharpley also offered reassurance.
“I think it’s going to be a nonissue. I think [neighbors are] going to be as happy as pigs in mud. I really do. It’s not like a traditional kennel. There’s not dogs barking all day long or all night long. They’ve got suites, they’ve got TVs with Animal Planet playing. He runs a classy operation,” Sharpley said.
Landowner Joe Wustner, who sold Last Chance its parcel and hopes to sell to Middleton as well, said Farmstead Kennels shouldn’t be called a kennel at all.
“I take offense to the ‘opposition’ word, [regarding neighbors] who say, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s going to be a kennel.’ A kennel has come a long way in 100 years. If you saw John Middleton’s facility, it is not a kennel. It is a luxury pet resort and that is how I would like it referred to in print. It truly is. … It’s not dogs in cages barking their heads off and [people] slinging food in to them. It’s something else,” Wustner said.
Twenty-nine houses are platted for the land, but Farmstead Kennels would probably be more congenial to the neighbors than a new residential development, Wustner said.