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Neighbors sound off on Carmel Valley dog park; LUAC chairman wants EIR


Published: June 7, 2012

IF THE sentiment expressed at a June 3 hearing at St. Philip’s Church was any indication, the path to opening an ambitious dog-training business in Carmel Valley will be a difficult one for its owners.

More than 150 people packed the church. Not only were many residents vocal in their opposition to the proposed Carmel Canine Sports Center, but Carmel Valley Land Use Advisory Committee chair Jan Brennan suggested an environmental impact report be done to examine its impacts. The pricey study has doomed or indefinitely delayed many ventures.

The LUAC opted not to vote on whether to recommend approval or denial of the project. Instead, it continued the hearing to a later date.

Great idea, wrong neighborhood?

Monterey County planning commissioner Martha Diehl and two partners — her husband, Ken Ecklund, and Ernie Mill — are seeking permission to open the business on 45 acres at 8100 Valley Greens Drive. Located just across the street from Quail Lodge, the center would offer training and agility facilities, a “safe and stress-free” place to let dogs walk or run off their leashes, and a social hub for their owners to meet.

But numerous residents told LUAC members they’re worried about how the business will affect their residential neighborhood. In particular, they cited concerns about of traffic, noise, lighting and special events.

Luci Willman zeroed in on the noise she said the center would create. “I’m dreading what’s going to happen to the quiet we enjoy,” Willman said.

Ann Mahoney wondered if the local roads can handle the traffic the business would generate. The center would attract recreational vehicles for its special events.

“How do we get 70 RVs on and off Carmel Valley Road?” Mahoney asked. “What kind of traffic impact will it have?”

Real estate agent Pat Matuszewski suggested the center would sink real estate values in the neighborhood, thereby reducing the amount of money the county receives from property taxes. She urged officials to proceed with caution before approving the project. “Once the genie is out of the bottle, there is no way to put it back in,” Matuszewski warned.

A man named Charles —his last name wasn’t audible — complimented the owners for their vision but questioned the location of the business. “It’s a great idea in the wrong neighborhood,” he said.

‘Fantastic design,’ ‘good use for land’

While they appeared to be outnumbered, a vocal minority supported the project. Roberta Troxell, who described herself as “active in dog sports,” told the committee she is looking forward to using its facilities. Without the center, “I would have to travel 100 miles to participate in a herding event,” Troxell explained.

Colleen Sweet believes the center will make good use of the property.

“I’ve watched it sit fallow and become a breeding ground for destructive rodents and coyotes,” said Sweet, who also praised Diehl and her partners. “They’ve been very open to our concerns and bent over backward” trying to accommodate them.

A man who described himself as a contractor called the project, “a fantastic design for animals and pet owners.” He also addressed concerns about the noise and traffic the business would generate.

“We have many events — the concours [week] especially — that bring far more vehicles into our area,” observed the man, who told the audience he raises therapy dogs. “Talk about noise and traffic abuse, talk about the concours.”

Attorneys share concerns

Two of Monterey County’s most prominent land use attorneys — who often find themselves on opposing sides of cases — raised issues with the project.

Representing the Quail Lodge, attorney Anthony Lombardo said its management is concerned about anything that would “detract” from the resort’s “ambience” — particularly after its recent $28 million makeover. Lombardo listed modular buildings, RV parking, RV generators, flood lighting, loud speakers and event parking as possible worries. “There are 100 rooms directly across the street” from the proposed center, Lombardo said.

While the project has been characterized as preserving the longtime agricultural use of the property, attorney Michael Stamp questioned that assessment. “They’re eliminating agricultural use instead of preserving it,” Stamp said.

The attorney also took aim at grading work that’s begun on the property. But senior planner John Ford responded by saying the work — with the exception of an electrical project “that crossed over the line” — complies with the traditional use of the land and doesn’t require a permit.

Project not a ‘done deal’

Tom Dellarmo and others have suggested the project hasn’t received the scrutiny from the county it deserves, inferring that Diehl’s role as planning commissioner must be playing a part. Some have called it “done deal.”

“Something stinks here,” Dellarmo told the audience. “Nothing gets done quickly” in Carmel Valley, he said.

But Christine Williams, a frequent participant in local government meetings who hasn’t taken a public stance on the center, insisted nothing improper has occurred — and the project is far from being approved.

“This is how the process works,” Williams explained. “It’s a slow process. This is just the beginning.”

Ford concurred with Williams. He also said the comments the county receives from the public will “not only shape our understanding, but also shape how we analyze the project in terms of environmental and design analysis.”

‘We did what we were told’

Three weeks ago, Diehl told The Pine Cone she and her partners were hoping to celebrate the center’s grand opening Sunday, July 14. At the June 3 hearing, though, she said that event has been postponed because of the controversy it has generated.

While Diehl didn’t address every concern raised by the audience, she insisted the noise level at the center won’t adversely affect the neighborhood, comparing it to the noise generated by a golf course.

To minimize noise, she said facilities have been sited as far from the property boundaries as possible.

Diehl also announced there will be no lighting for events, dispelling another fear people have raised. “We were told [by the county] that isn’t happening, so we removed the request,” she said.

While some have been critical of the grading work that has occurred, Diehl maintained that she and her partners have done nothing wrong. “We did what we were told,” she added.

Will an EIR be required?

Of all the comments made at the hearing, the words of Brennan carried perhaps the greatest weight. If an EIR is required, as she suggested, the project’s path to completion will become considerably more expensive and time-consuming — if not infeasible.

“I think alternatives to this project need to be carefully considered, and that can only occur through an EIR,” Brennan said.