Published in the January 14, 2016 edition


NORTH READING – Residents from the Damon and Gould streets neighborhood came to the Zoning Board of Appeals hearing Thursday night to express opposition to a proposed dog training, daycare and boarding business at 29 Main St.

Francine Coughlin’s proposal to locate her business on the property prompted concerns from the residents about an intrusive noise burden on their residential neighborhood and a harmful effect on their property values. At the same time, there were residents at the hearing who expressed their support, speaking highly of Coughlin’s integrity, experience and professionalism, saying the business would be an asset to the town.

After listening to both sides for over an hour, ZBA Chairman Fred Keyes closed the public hearing, saying the board would make a decision at its next meeting, Jan. 28.

Coughlin’s proposed location is a single family house located next to the Beyond Bagels building on the southerly side. The property is zoned commercial, which would allow for a business of the type proposed. Coughlin is proposing to purchase the property and applied to the ZBA for a special permit. In addition to being zoned commercial, Coughlin said the location is attractive because it has a Main Street location and is across the street from 24 Main St., where she did business from 2012 to 2014. The house sits on a half acre of land.

She said he plans to operate the dog daycare business seven days a week but probably on a more limited schedule on Saturdays and Sundays. There will also be overnight boarding. She said she plans to expand and improve the appearance of the house and will be putting in a fenced-in yard in the back.

Coughlin said the average number of dogs per day is about 30 at other locations in town and the number to boarded overnight would depend on the need in the community. Hours for the daycare would be 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. with a more limited schedule on weekends.

The Community Planning Commission said the proposal should undergo site plan review from the CPC as a change in use. The CPC said it would like to review vehicle management, parking, waste management, noise, hours of operations and other aspects of the business.

Building Inspector Jim DeCola said the property is zoned commercial and the present use as a home is non-conforming. He said he didn’t agree with the CPC’s request for site plan review at this time because of that. The business would have to go to CPC later for site plan review if an addition is put on or there are improvements to the site. But he didn’t see the need at this time since Coughlin is just going to use the existing house with no changes. DeCola didn’t see the need for two trips to the CPC for site plan review.

“I just don’t know what Community Planning’s looking for,” said DeCola. Keyes suggested the number of parking spaces could be an example.

There were about a dozen residents from Damon and Gould streets, some of whom would be directly behind the dog facility, who were opposed because they fear the possible disturbance. “I did not purchase the property with the idea there was going to be something like this (there). And I am afraid that when and if I try to sell my property, it would affect the value,” said Ted Bryson, 10 Gould St.

Kathleen Scanlon, 12 Gould St., said she was “adamantly opposed,” saying this is a quiet residential neighborhood and not the right location for 30 to 50 dogs, a number Coughlin disputed. Scanlon asked the Board of Appeals to consider the effect this business would have on the quality of life in the neighborhood. “I am not opposed to business, but this is not the right business for this location,” she said.

Frank Petrillo, owner of Petrillo Landscaping at 31 Main St., said this was the wrong use for the location. He said there’s already a dog in the vicinity that barks all day and he’s called the police “probably 30 times” this year because of that. He warned Coughlin he’ll be doing the same thing “if you’re in there.”

“This is going to be a hassle for the town. You have the wrong place, the wrong everything. This is going to be a fight and I mean a very big fight. It can’t happen,” Petrillo said. “You can’t be abutting these people and you can’t be abutting me.”

Several local residents who are Coughlin’s customers felt sure she can make the business work. Lorraine Murphy, 13 Duane Dr., said a lot of the concerns were based on a general lack of knowledge and when she goes to pick up her dog, she doesn’t hear a lot of barking. Before Coughlin accepted Murphy’s dog, an assessment was required to see if the dog would fit in and be manageable. “It’s all very controlled,” she said.

As a practice, the Board of Appeals usually approves a special permit if there’s no opposition but that’s not the case here, Keyes noted. “It’s definitely a change from a residential use to a commercial use. At the very least, CPC needs to look at this,” said Keyes. “If we were to give a permit for this, it would definitely be subject to CPC review. We do give great weight to neighbors of the community.”

Coughlin previously applied to the ZBA for a location at 48 Main St., but withdrew when another tenant in the building, Knowledge Beginnings, objected. She said a well run dog day care facility doesn’t have a lot of barking. There’s a lack of knowledge about how to run a business like this in the right way, she said.

“The dogs I plan to take into this business are dogs I already know very well. These are dogs we’ve known for years and they know us. How do you keep a dog from barking, you stimulate them.” The dogs are never allowed to be outside alone, she promised.

“I do not want these dogs barking all day,” she said. “That’s not a good environment for anyone.”

Stimulated dogs don’t bark, she said and asked “for a certain amount of trust” from the residents.

“You’re asking a row of people to roll the dice on you,” said one of the neighbors. Coughlin agreed with that and said she wants to address their concerns.

Both sides continued in this vein for quite some time. Eventually Keyes closed the public hearing, saying the matter will be discussed on Jan. 28 when the board makes a decision.