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Club Pooche owner hopes to expand in Ellicott City, but neighbors opposed

Verity Weston-Truby poses with dog Layla outside her home on Manor Lane.
Verity Weston-Truby poses with dog Layla outside her home on Manor Lane. (Staff photo by Amanda Yeager)

Manor Lane, a turn off of Clarksville Pike in Ellicott City, is a quiet stretch of rural road, home to the historic Doughoregan Manor as well as houses just a fraction of the mansion's size. Sheep, horses and alpacas graze in some neighbors' yards, while farther down the cul-de-sac, green lawns yield to corn fields.

To Elisa Kamens, it's the perfect site for a small outgrowth of her Columbia-based dog daycare business, Club Pooche. But to many of Kamens' neighbors, it's just the opposite.

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Since July, Kamens and some Manor Lane residents have argued their case in front of the county's hearing examiner. Kamens has requested a conditional use for a pet daycare facility on her property, a 2.9-acre site marked by a dog-shaped mailbox at the end of the driveway.

She envisions using the property, a 3,721-square-foot house with a fenced-in yard and pool in the back, as a place to condition puppies and, potentially, provide physical therapy for older dogs. Kamens is asking for permission to work with up to 15 dogs there, though she figures it's more likely that she'll have just eight to 10 at the house at any one time.

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For some residents of Manor Lane, however, the proposed business poses a threat to the neighborhood's peacefulness.

At a hearing Nov. 10, about a dozen neighbors told Hearing Examiner Michele LeFaivre they were concerned that allowing a pet daycare on the lane would worsen congestion at the intersection of Manor Lane and Clarksville Pike. They also said they worried the dogs' barking would be a nuisance.

"I have lived on Manor Lane for 35 years and I have enjoyed the peace and quiet of this rural residential neighborhood, its open fields," Yovonda Brooks, who lives next door to the proposed pet daycare, testified. "I am very concerned about the proposed conditional use of the property next to my home and I feel that the property is not appropriate for a pet daycare."

"The main concern that I have is the noise we will hear from the property," said neighbor Harry Hoffman. "This is a striking change from the normal character of our neighborhood."

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Jim Truby and Verity Weston-Truby also showed up to testify. Later, at their residence a few houses down from Kamens' property, they shared their concerns in greater depth.

The couple has lived on their 13.5-acre, preserved parcel on Manor Lane for 29 years.

Truby said they chose the spot because "it's beautiful and quiet, yet close to downtown Columbia." Many community members said they moved there for the same reason.

"I wouldn't say people live here until they die, but ... they tend to stay here," he said.

Truby and his wife are both dog lovers: they have a 2-year-old black lab named Layla who they rescued when she was a puppy.

"We like dogs; some of our best friends are dogs," Weston-Truby said. Their opposition to the center "is not an anti-dog thing, but we think putting a business use in a residential area close to many other houses is inappropriate," she said.

Their main concerns mirror those of the neighbors: Truby points out that Manor Lane, a narrow residential road that he calls "a major recreational amenity for those of us who live here," could be difficult to navigate for drivers unfamiliar with the neighborhood. And he called the entrance to the neighborhood "an accident waiting to happen," due to limited sight distance and the difficulty of turning left when traffic is heavy, as it is during rush hour.

Though they aren't within hearing distance of the property, they are concerned for neighbors who would be.

"Dogs bark, and so it just didn't quite make sense to me that there wouldn't be any noise," Weston-Truby said.

Kamens said she understands the neighbors' concerns.

"Do I understand the fear that goes on? Of course, it's change," she said. "I'm sympathetic."

She points to years of professional experience as evidence that she knows what she's getting into. She founded Club Pooche in 2008 and was a dog walker and breeder long before that. Certificates from dog training courses hang on the wall in her office on Manor Lane, and in the entrance to the house, a snapshot of Kamens with "dog whisperer" Cesar Millan is displayed above a desk.

If she's allowed to open a daycare on Manor Lane, she notes, the dogs will spend most of the day inside, in a basement she is retrofitting for the use. When they go outside to use the bathroom, they will be accompanied by employees at all times, she said.

"I hate noise, seriously. My sensitivity level to noise is slim to none," she said of concerns about barking.

And in a profession where success is based on results, "if I say I'm going to do A and B, you can guarantee I'm going to do A and B," she said.

Kamens said she'd prefer to work with the community rather than arguing with them. She built a privacy fence to shield the backyard from the street and then planted trees along the fence at a neighbor's request.

"I'm trying to be as open-minded and sensitive to their needs as can be," she said. "But there does come a point in time where you have to draw a line in the sand, which I hate, because I'm not that type of person. ... I don't know what more I can do."

Truby said he's open-minded too – he just doesn't feel the site is right. "Change is going to happen," he said, "but in considering this proposal I believe we have been more than fair."

Hearings for Kamens' request ended last week; she and the neighbors of Manor Lane will now have to wait for LeFaivre's decision, which will likely be released before the end of the year.

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