By Cecilia Chan, GSN Managing Editor
A doggy daycare for Fido to play, socialize and even spend the night is expected to open at Gilbert Fiesta shopping center sometime in October or November.
Franchise owner and Gilbert resident Tina Edenfield got the green light for Dogtopia last week from Town Council, which voted 6-1 to uphold the Planning Commission’s granting of a conditional use permit.
Councilman Jordan Ray filed an appeal of that June decision after he received a letter from homeowners to the east concerned with potential noise from barking dogs.
The business will set up shop in a vacant 6,000-square-foot-plus building that shares the 40-acre shopping center at Williams and Gilbert roads with a Fry’s market, an AutoZone, a doughnut shop and other tenants. Dogtopia will take up the entire multi-tenant building.
Hours of operation will be Mondays to Fridays, 7a.m.-7 p.m. and Saturday and Sundays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
The maximum occupancy will be 115 dogs divided up into three playrooms by size. Each group of dogs is allowed outside with supervision for 20 minutes or so then let back in.
No more than 30 dogs are outside at any given time. And if there are any dogs staying the night, they are let out for one last potty break ending at 9 p.m.
Attorney Adam Baugh, representing Edenfield, said Dogtopia is well established with 70 locations around the country, including two in Arizona — one in Scottsdale and another in the Arcadia District in Phoenix and 150 more in development.
He said his client has made a number of design changes to address homeowners’ concerns, such as reducing the outdoor play area so it did not extend pass the south edge of the building, limiting noise to the homeowners in the east.
And, Baugh said, instead of the minimal 6-foot-tall wall requirement, an 8-foot perimeter wall will be built.
He bolstered his case by saying similar dog care places in Gilbert have had no noise, odor or nuisance complaints. He also cited Doggie District Pet Resort & Training Center in Mesa, which is surrounded by residences.
He said Dogtopia will provide job growth with about eight employees and fill a building that has sat empty for 39 months. And, he pointed to a letter of support from the Gilbert Chamber of Commerce and support from other tenants at the shopping center.
Baugh added since the commission’s meeting, his client has had a noise study done and gotten input from a canine behaviorist who works for Dogtopia.
Acoustical Consulting Services in Mesa basically found that the “projected maximum noise levels are below the town’s noise-level limits by a substantial amount.”
The canine behaviorist in her letter detailed the company’s policy and procedures in curbing problems, including barking, during outdoor play. She said most dogs do not bark during play and a dog daycare center would reduce barking in neighborhoods because a tired, well-socialized dog is less likely to bark.
Homeowner Jim Torgeson didn’t buy the argument.
Not only is his home the closest to the proposed business but as president of Legacy at Gilbert Commons Homeowners’ Association, he was tasked with opposing the permit on behalf of the 131 homeowners.
Torgeson said he moved to Gilbert 10 years ago, bought his house for cash and has a reasonable expectation to enjoy peace and quiet on his property.
“I love dogs, I have two,” he said. “My concern is my dogs barking back at 30 dogs.”
As a former nightclub owner, he said he is well-versed in volume and decibels and disputed the noise study’s findings, believing the sound of barking would be louder than what was stated.
He said the other dog centers mentioned for Gilbert are located in light industrial areas and he didn’t want homeowners to be the guinea pig.
“You are gambling with my peace and quiet because someone wants to open something that needs a conditional use permit,” he said. “I don’t want to come back in three months and have a discussion that I was right.”
Councilman Victor Petersen asked if he was right in his research that the 36 decibels projected at the peak when dogs are barking is between a whisper and a light rain – to which Baugh responded in the affirmative.
Councilman Jared Taylor asked what sound abatement was being used inside the building.
Baugh said a couple of things will be done, including applying acoustic absorbing material indoors and no windows on the east side of the building facing the homes.
Councilman Ray said although he filed the appeal, he appreciated the owner’s efforts to address concerns and spend extra money out of pocket for it.
He said he visited the two Dogtopia locations in the Valley unannounced and sat in the parking lot, listening for noise.
“It was far quieter than my backyard where I have dogs that live behind me,” he said.
And, he said, because this is a conditional use permit with conditions, if there are complaints or the applicant doesn’t follow what’s spelled out, the permit can and will likely be revoked.
“I’m in favor of the project now based on the changes,” Ray said.
Councilman Eddie Cook cast the dissenting vote, likening the sound of barking dogs to an orchestra.
A single violin plays a certain note, add a second violin and then another and so on and the volume grows, he said. Having one dog barking is fine but add a second, third and fourth and it’s an orchestra of barking, he said.
He asked the owner if it was possible to remove the outdoor play area, which might be a win-win for everyone.
Edenfield said an outdoor play area was vital for a dog’s well-being.
“I think the owner made great adjustments,” Vice Mayor Brigette Peterson said, adding:
“This business wants to be a success in the community and we should give her the opportunity to be successful.”
Peterson said her dogs have gone to a dog daycare and the staff there do a great job calming the dogs down.
Petersen said he’s known for being passionate about property rights but in this case, he didn’t think noise will be an issue and infringe on people’s enjoyment of their property.
Councilman Scott Anderson said he also visited both Dogtopia sites and other similar businesses and sat and listened.
“I must say each one I would not know what was happening if I didn’t know what the business was,” he said. “Someone is willing to invest in this property.”
Taylor said the permit will keep the owner on a short leash and during his visits to the Dogtopia locations, he found the dogs were monitored every single step.
“I was in the lobby and didn’t hear anything,” he said.
He said quiet enjoyment of one’s property didn’t mean silence and that people live in homes near roads.
“We’ve approved things with a much worse sound issue in this town,” Taylor said. “This is the least of our worries.”
Mayor Jenn Daniels said she understood the residents’ concerns but there were mitigations in place to alleviate them.
After the hearing, Torgeson said he hoped he was wrong about the noise but was somewhat confident he wasn’t.
And if there were to be a a noise violation, he was doubtful the town would pull the permit from a business generating tax dollars.
Now, he said he had to deliver the bad news to the homeowners.
“I expressed their concerns the best I could do,” he said.