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Fresno Bully Rescue faces opposition to new shelter site near Sanger

It took eight years for Fresno Bully Rescue to earn enough money to buy appropriately zoned land for its nonprofit dog rescue. While some residents say the group’s work to clear the site has been a welcome improvement, nearby residents say the organization should find a different site.

The residents went to the Fresno County Board of Supervisors last week for the second time in a month to press their claims that the dog rescue will be too close to their homes and will bring unwanted noise and smells.

Supervisors will consider an urgency ordinance on June 7 that could lead to a temporary moratorium on dog kennels and possibly other uses on similarly zoned property after Supervisor Debbie Poochigian brought the issue to the board.

Fresno Bully Rescue bought the 3-acre property in December after county officials said the land 4 miles northwest of Sanger was properly zoned for kennels.

The land has been zoned nearly 40 years for kennel-type uses, but Poochigian questioned whether Fresno Bully Rescue was the type of kennel operation that county staff had in mind when the zoning was established. The rescue will have 34 to 40 dogs on site with staffing around the clock.

“I disagree with the interpretation that it fits there,” Poochigian said.

She said the kennel should be required to have a conditional use permit, which would set out a list of conditions Fresno Bully Rescue must follow.

County officials also say that they could return with certain requirements for kennels, such as requiring a kennel to be a certain distance from the nearest home. There also could be noise, visibility and odor conditions, said Bernard Jimenez, Fresno County’s deputy director of planning.

The land is zoned agricultural/estate-20 acres, but land doesn’t have to be 20 acres in size to qualify under such zoning. Some properties in the neighborhood are as small as an acre, he said.

“Our interpretation still stands, and the board has the ability to say that staff got it wrong,” Jimenez told supervisors last week. “They gave us an operational statement. We classified the use and that it was a use permitted by right.”

While other supervisors said they will seriously consider the moratorium, Supervisor Henry R. Perea was worried about the investments made by Fresno Bully Rescue, the money it has spent and the five months the group has committed to cleaning the property, which was once a transient hangout.

He said Bully Rescue officials relied on the county’s word before buying the land and moving forward with plans.

Under the moratorium process, county staff has 45 days to evaluate the situation and return with ideas to address it. Supervisors can seek an extension to the moratorium but must make that declaration 10 days before the end of the initial 45-day process, said County Counsel Dan Cederborg.

If the extension occurs, the process could extend into next year, he said.

Barks worse than bites

Residents on Nelson Avenue, a one-block neighborhood with fewer than a dozen homes sitting on the north side of Belmont Avenue between McCall and Academy avenues, describe it as a bucolic setting with wildlife occasionally trekking through. They worry about noise and potential smells coming from the Bully Rescue kennels.

“Nobody is really happy about having them in the neighborhood,” said Kevin Statham, who lives a couple hundred yards north of the Bully Rescue site. “It will drastically and terribly change the nature of our neighborhood.”

When Fresno Bully Rescue began working on the site, nobody on Nelson Avenue was informed about the planned project, he said.

Statham said he was encouraged by the supervisors’ action last week, even though a majority didn’t announce outright support of a moratorium and the potential changes for zoning such kennels.

Neighbors also are worried about home values because they will be in close proximity to the noise and smells from the kennels. Safety isn’t a major issue, Statham said, because the dogs will be in kennels behind tall wire fencing. Officials say the rescue has never had an escape.

Marilyn Kanawyer has lived across Nelson Avenue, west of the proposed dog rescue site, for 39 years and wanted supervisors to reconsider because there are several residents who are aging or getting near retirement and will want to sell their property in the coming years.

“We would like to get the full value on our homes,” she said.

She said they chose to live on Nelson Avenue because it’s quiet.

Last month, residents and family members appealed to supervisors and said that the neighborhood has children and a bus stop in front of the rescue site.

The residents attending the April meeting worried about late-night dog drop-offs. Those dogs then could run loose in a neighborhood where kids play and walk to a school bus stop at the end of the street.

“Putting the needs of these animals ahead of the eight families that live on this street, just ask yourself how you would feel if this was your neighborhood,” Kanawyer said to supervisors.

Massive cleanup

But not all of Fresno Bully Rescue’s new neighbors oppose it.

Joy Frantz, who lives across Belmont Avenue from the site, said the rescue has improved the property since buying it.

An abandoned, condemned house was leveled, the property cleared and the men living there removed.

“The house was half falling down, the yard was overgrown, and it was truly an eyesore,” Frantz said.

There were constant ambulance calls and sheriff’s patrol cars going to the home, where the occupants lived with no electricity or water, she said.

Frantz said the men and their visitors would use the backyard as a bathroom and for disposal of hypodermic needles and empty alcohol bottles.

“Nightly there were intoxicated drug people around,” Frantz said. “Several times monthly the sheriff or an ambulance would go out there. I very rarely saw anyone sober over there, and they would come to our house to call 911.”

She credits Fresno Bully Rescue for eliminating the problem.

“It’s now cleaned up and that element is gone,” she said. “It’s better value for our home now that it’s cleaned up, safe and secure.”

Bridgette Boothe, who lives adjacent to the property and is a director for Fresno Bully Rescue, said the rescue’s volunteers hauled out 100 tons of green waste, 50 tons of trash and 34 tires along with numerous drug needles.

“We unearthed holes in the ground used for human waste,” she said.

“We have invested in and cleaned this property, improving the safety and values in this area,” she said.

Becky Holly, a Fresno Bully Rescue board member, said the new facility will have a reception room and veterinary area to care for ill dogs, as well as housing for staff.

She said the property is large enough for walking paths, and the dogs will not leave the property. At the existing 1-acre site along West Herndon Avenue, west of Highway 99, volunteers walk dogs outside the gates of the shelter.

The entrance and parking for the shelter will be on Belmont Avenue, not Nelson Avenue.

Holly said rescue officials never would have considered spending more than $200,000 to move to the Belmont site had the county not given them zoning clearance in December.

“It was determined our rescue facility can be allowed under the use of a breeding and personal kennel and no additional land use clearance was required,” Holly said. “We specifically asked for this before we purchased the property and spending our donors’ money.”

Marc Benjamin: 559-441-6166, @beebenjamin

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