Fresno Bully Rescue can continue work on new rural shelter

Fresno Bully Rescue supporters packed the Fresno County Board of Supervisors’ meeting on Tuesday to support the shelter in its efforts to build on a new site west of Sanger.
Fresno Bully Rescue supporters packed the Fresno County Board of Supervisors’ meeting on Tuesday to support the shelter in its efforts to build on a new site west of Sanger. mbenjamin@fresnobee.com

Fresno Bully Rescue can continue working on its new shelter site west of Sanger after Fresno County supervisors Tuesday voted against a moratorium that could have made them stop.

Supervisors instead told county planning staff to work with Fresno Bully Rescue officials on their plans to lessen noise, smells and other issues that could be related to a dog rescue.

Fresno Bully Rescue started work on the site earlier this year after being allowed under county rules to open on the site. Under the county code, Bully Rescue can be on the 2.65-acre site “by right.” But neighbors oppose their new site on Belmont Avenue, between McCall and Academy avenues.

Supervisors asked planning staff to return in 30 days with information about Bully Rescue’s mitigation plans.

Supervisors asked county staff also to examine animal rescue kennels as a unique use. Under existing guidelines, only personal and professional kennels are addressed in the county’s planning code under the same zoning.

Fresno Bully Rescue bought the 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 Supervisor Debbie Poochigian questioned last month 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.

About 100 supporters of Fresno Bully Rescue created a standing-room only audience at the supervisors’ meeting Tuesday.

Chris Campbell, the lawyer for Fresno Bully Rescue, said shelter officials had a reasonable expectation they could use their new site because the proposed use was allowed under zoning rules.

“Shutting them down with the most flimsy of evidence that they may be a problem is really problematic,” Campbell said.

If noise is the problem, he said, the rescue has a program to reduce it.

The rescue followed the rules, said Bridgette Boothe, Fresno Bully Rescue director.

“Like any other small business, people need to have assurance that if they follow the county rules they will not be stopped in the middle of a project” and face potential financial ruin, she said.

Joy Frantz, who lives across Belmont Avenue, said the rescue’s volunteers have improved the property by cleaning it up.

She said the previous neighbors were registered sex offenders who had no running water or electricity and used the backyard as a bathroom. She said they would come to her home frequently when they needed someone to call the Sheriff’s Office for help.

“I think my property value has increased exponentially,” she said.

Chris Cubre, whose family lives near the existing Fresno Bully Rescue on West Herndon Avenue, said it has been a “clean and quiet” neighbor. He said they also have taken in animals that are dumped in the area.

He said the property for the rescue is farmland, and neighbors of the new rescue site are complaining as if they live in a residential area.

Marilyn Kanawyer, who lives on Nelson Avenue, said the land use in the neighborhood is more residential.

“The land use for our neighborhood is recorded for being for single-family residential,” she said. “What are our rights? Our neighborhood has been established for 50 years.”

Kevin Statham, who also is opposed to the shelter, said the county needs to change its zoning rules for kennels. He said property values will go down if dozens of barking dogs are nearby.

“People next door, people who abut the property are going to hear the barking, and that’s what we’re against,” said Statham. “It’s going to affect our lives irrevocably and in a bad way.”

Supervisor Andreas Borgeas was uncomfortable with changing the zoning rules midstream.

Supervisor Henry R. Perea said rescue officials had expected to be able to put the shelter at the new site after relying on county staff’s decisions.

“Bully Rescue went through the process and spent resources,” he said. “It’s too bad we didn’t update our ordinances, our rules, earlier to look at this differently, but to single out one organization or group and try to do a moratorium is not fair.”

Poochigian said she still has concerns about the project and wants to ensure that reasonable measures are taken to assure the neighbors on Nelson Avenue that they will encounter few problems.

“We should have voluntary mitigation measures,” Poochigian said, because neighbors will “be living right next door to 45 barking dogs.”

In other action, supervisors also agreed to consider amendments to the Fresno County Charter in November’s election. Supervisors will get a second look at specific language for two proposed measures. One measure will seek to separate the probation chief’s position from the jurisdiction of Fresno County Superior Court.

In April, Fresno County Superior Court’s presiding judge, Kimberly Gaab, put probation Chief Rick Chavez on administrative leave with pay. The supervisors weren’t involved in the decision but oversee Chavez, and the county pays his salary. The charter amendment would give supervisors or the county administrative officer jurisdiction over the probation chief position.

On a second proposed measure, supervisors want to change the professional certifications for the county’s public works and planning director. The other two issues under the same measure will be consideration of removing the public administrator’s office from the district attorney’s supervision and cleaning up 44-year-old language about constable posts that have been in place since 1972.

Supervisors voted 3-2 to consider re-establishing developer impact fees for new construction, which would pay for general government and public safety facilities, equipment and programs related to county growth. Those fees were eliminated last year after being suspended in 2014. The county’s budget provides $100,000 for a study that will look at a fee structure and how those fees can be spent.

Marc Benjamin: 559-441-6166, @beebenjamin