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Upscale dog 'hotel' finds new home after zoning fight

Posted by Cara Bayles  September 13, 2010 01:08 PM

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Fenway Bark, an upscale boarding facility "for the discriminating dog," will not open on East First Street as planned.

On Sunday, owner Jane Fulton announced she had found a new South Boston location for her kennel, one that's almost twice as big and not subject to a lengthy zoning process that Fulton said she "won't miss one bit."

The decision ends a year-long battle with abutting residents who didn't want to live next to the smells and sounds of at least 60 dogs. The kennel plans to offer such services as massage therapy and luxury boxes with TVs and a view of the facility's pool.

The plans were further complicated by a permitting error.

East First Street sits on an Interim Planning Overlay District (with the enviable acronym IPOD), murky zoning designation. The old Fenway Bark site is zoned for commercial use, which makes it an appropriate location for a kennel, but because it's surrounded by residences, the land is zoned to offer certain protections for its neighbors.

As part of the designation, the city's Inspectional Services department should have notified the Zoning Board of Appeals, and a public hearing should have been held. But it didn't at first.

Inspectional Services originally gave Fulton a permit, then revoked it and started up the process properly, after neighbors called attention to their error. In December, the Boston Redevelopment Authority held a community meeting where residents panned the kennel and the city for botching the process.

By the time a revised Fenway Bark proposal hit the Zoning Board of Appeals in March, the BRA opposed the plan, as did the mayor's Office of Neighborhood Services and local elected officials like City Councilor Bill Linehan, state Senator Jack Hart and state Representative Brian Wallace.

Fulton provided documentation that suggested 93 percent of abutters did not oppose the proposal, and she boasted the support of 750 people. The ZBA found in her favor, but she then had to go through the process again for the site's parking lot. Fulton says she'd had full approval in mid-July.

Then, in early August, a group of neighbors filed a lawsuit with the city.

"At that point, I had to think about what I was going to do," Fulton said. "I would love to be open. I'm getting calls for reservations every day. All of this was just an unfortunate delay in getting a business going in this economy."

Fulton terms the zoning designation "prohibitive" for building owners and potential non-residential tenants, since the designation draws out the approval process by several months.

"Essentially, the purpose of the IPOD is to act as transitional zoning. That area's moving more and more toward a residential zoning district," said Kurt Kusiak, the plaintiffs' lawyer. "I don't think anyone has anything against dog kennels in particular, they just didn't want one right next to their homes."

The Boston Zoning Commission will hold a public hearing on a proposal to extend the South Boston waterfront's IPOD designation by another year on Wednesday morning.

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