The Washington County Board of Supervisors approved a conditional use permit (CUP) for a dog obedience training facility in an already constructed building at 7902 Dutch Hall Road, Omaha, during its meeting Tuesday.
Earlier this month, the planning commission voted to deny the CUP to property owner Melissa Lester after receiving 10 letters of concern or opposition sent to the commission, hearing from several neighbors concerned about traffic and noise and hearing from Lester, Lester's friend and an immediate neighbor in favor of the operation.
In a reversal of the planning commission's decision, the board of supervisors voted 4-2 to approve the facility, with supervisors Kevin Barnhill, District 7-Blair and Jay Anderson, District 5-Blair, voting against the approval. The CUP stipulates an initial six-month review period, and it can be revoked at any time for noncompliance with Lester's proposed use.
Lester previously requested a CUP for dog training in 2017, which was denied by the board.
"I am thankful for an opportunity to start a relationship with my neighbors in Washington County," Lester said. "It is my sincere intention to operate the facility within the regulatory framework of Washington County."
Lester said in the planning commission meeting, and reiterated to the county board, that the facility would be private invitation only and that there would be no signage, advertising or retail use. She said she and her friends would use the facility, and her friends would pay a $10 fee to offset maintenance costs for the building. She said she does not want to run a commercial business and expects no profit.
Lester's proposal for the dog training use of the building included operating around two nights a week from 6 to 9 p.m. with two or three weekend days over the year. Lester, who said she would be present during all training, also said training might be four-week sessions with six dogs on the property at a time for one-hour training led by a facilitator.
Lester said the building is insulated. Planning and Zoning Administrator Chris Shewchuk said on Tuesday that the building is up to code except it would still need a paved parking lot area to be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Pamela Swisher, who is friends with Lester and lives on Deerfield Lane near Fort Calhoun, said she and Lester's dogs are well-trained. She said she and Lester take therapy dogs to the University of Nebraska Medical Center, and Lester's building is "beautiful."
"It's the best training facility in our community," Swisher said. "There's nothing even like it in the metro Omaha area."
Swisher said around her home near Fort Calhoun she hears target practice and dogs barking.
"Melissa's property is quiet compared to what goes on around me in Washington County," she said.
Noise was one concern for Mark Theilen, who lives near Lester. He also expressed concern that other property owners around the area have businesses and questioned whether approving the CUP could lead to more business activity in the area.
"Those are what the majority of the neighbors' concerns are," he said.
Omaha resident Susan Scanlan, who is friends with Lester, echoed Lester's statement that the facility would be for a small group of friends rather than a business.
"She wants to be able to have a few of her friends and people that she knows out there, she doesn't want to run a business, that's not Melissa," she said. "This is a hobby, this would be something for her friends to enjoy."
Lester, who plans to move into her home recently built on the property July 4, said since the building is insulated and her property is 16 acres, there would be no noise heard on the edge of the property from inside the building. She said she has heard target practice around the area and airplanes flying to Eppley Airfield in Omaha cross overhead.
"This is to me what noise is," she said.
Cody Theilen, who also lives in the area, said he was unsure whether the facility's use would remain within what Lester proposed, citing a previous CUP approval for the building. In 2015, Lester received a permit for the 100-by-100-foot steel-frame building. The permit was for agricultural use of the building, but the Enterprise reported in 2017 that Lester told the board that wasn't the building's intended use.
"Everything being proposed this time around sounds absolutely fantastic except for the fact that history does not land on her side, necessarily," Theilen said.
Supervisor Steve Dethlefs, District 1-Fort Calhoun, said he was conflicted on approval of the CUP. Dethlefs also noted that the county has approved dog kennels, which might be more intrusive compared to Lester's proposal.
"I'm conflicted on it because obviously there are multiple neighbors that have concerns," he said. "Based on how the business has been outlined … the hours are not unusual operating, traffic is minimal … I think the indication is all activity occurs inside the building, so noise would be minimal."
Lester said she is looking forward to moving into her new home on the property soon.
"I have developed my 16 acres from a cow pasture to a nice residential lot with a beautiful custom home and beautiful outbuilding," she said. "I am a good steward of the land and maintain the property well."