Plans for a 100-animal dog kennel on farmland north of Hope have been blocked by a county zoning agency after more than 300 people, most of them in opposition, turned out for the decision.

Applicants Aaron and Lena Oberholtzer were denied conditional-use approval by the Bartholomew County Board of Zoning Appeals. They had sought to operate the kennel on 55 acres of land they own in the northeast corner of the intersection of county roads 950N and 500E in Flatrock Township. They had hoped to breed up to 100 small dogs a year at the kennel, according to their application.

The application was rejected 4-1, with Eric Scheidt the lone BZA board member to vote in favor of the kennel.

More than 300 people crowded into the Columbus Airport terminal building lower level meeting room, where the meeting was moved to handle a large crowd.

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But it quickly became standing-room-only, as about 130 residents who arrived too late to find a seat and stood shoulder-to-shoulder in the back of the room.

Opponents also expressed their opinions via a petition, signed by more than 2,000 people.

Dozens held and waved printed signs throughout the crowd which read, “No Puppy Mills! They Breed Misery.”

Opposition has been growing since the Oberholtzers first made their initial proposal for the kennel in late November.

Most of the 24 speakers who addressed the board in nearly two hours of testimony mentioned problems such as lack of a septic system on the property, possibilities of an E. coli outbreak from dog urine, problems with noise, lack of a plan to deal with animal carcasses, the impact of unsold or discarded animals on shelters and insufficient staff to care for 100 animals.

They had planned to breed small dogs such as Yorkies or Bichons, dealing with potential buyers on a private basis.

Originally, the proposed kennel request was scheduled to be heard first on the agenda. But the board decided to handle all of the other agenda items first, which extended the meeting past 10 p.m. for those who stayed until the end.

Bartholomew County Councilman Matt Miller, who spoke against the proposal, mentioned the room conditions in his remarks to the BZA.

“Yes, this room is hot,” Miller said. “But we’re not standing in feces. We’re not standing in urine. And none of us are really suffering from inhumane living conditions. Any one of us can get up and walk out of this room. Those animals can’t,” he said of the dogs that would have been housed at the kennel had it been approved.

Columbus City councilman Tom Dell, who serves as the council’s liaison to the city’s Animal Care Services, was the first of two dozen audience members to speak about the petition.

Dell received multiple rounds of applause as he argued that protecting the well-being of pets should be considered part of protecting public health. At one point, Dell described the proposed kennel as a “commercial domesticated CAFO.”

The councilman was referring to concentrated animal feeding operations, a term that became well known during deliberations over the past few years for large-scale operations for hogs.

Scheidt asked Dell how he knows an animal’s condition before it goes into a kennel.

After replying that kennels don’t provide the love and care pets need, Dell told Scheidt the city is considering ordinances that would forbid pet stores from selling animals from large kennels such as what the Oberholtzers were proposing.

Chad Miller, who lives next to the property where the kennel was being proposed, talked about the potential for loss in property values. He also talked about coyotes, saying their presence in northeast Bartholomew County and in Hope was mentioned when the town was considering new trash ordinances.

Miller said the sound of dozens of distressed puppies are likely to lure coyotes to his home, which is a direct danger to his children.

Miller claimed that the couple had been “run out of communities” where they had operated kennels.

Aaron Oberholtzer said the couple left Iowa, where they had previously operated a kennel, “for a better climate.”

They still are operating one kennel in the southern Indiana community of Fredricksburg, he said.

Oberholtzer declined to respond to other evidence presented or statements made during the meeting.

Although the speakers focused on public health and safety issues, it was a totally different criteria that the board cited to deny conditional-use approval of the kennel.

The county’s fourth and final criteria requires a proposal to “be consistent with the character of the zoning district in which it is located, and the recommendations of the county’s comprehensive plan.”

BZA members Jason Newton and Dennis White said they didn’t believe a large dog kennel is the best use of land zoned as prime agricultural. While regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, White said he doesn’t consider dog kennels a legitimate branch of farming.

Aaron Oberholtzer, who said he purchased the northern Bartholomew County land last August, said he needs time to consider what he will do now with his property.

“If I can’t do what I want, I don’t know why I need the land,” he said.

How they voted

Here’s how members of the Bartholomew County Board of Zoning Appeals voted Monday on a conditional-use approval to operate a large dog kennel at the intersection of County Road 950N and 500E near Hope.

Voting against: Roger Glick, Dennis White, Jason Newton, David Flohr

Voting for: Eric Scheidt

Considered a quasi-judicial organization, the Board of Zoning Appeals hears and decides special exceptions to the zoning ordinance, and authorizes variances from the terms of the ordinance. It may also hear appeals to decisions made by anyone charged with the enforcement of the ordinance.

Kennel request denied

A Hope area couple’s plans to start a dog-breeding operation in northern Bartholomew County have been rejected.

The Bartholomew County Board of Zoning Appeals voted 4-1 Monday to reject the request by Aaron and Lena Oberholtzer for conditional-use approval to operate a kennel in an Agriculture: Preferred zoning district on a 55-acre property at 9173 E. County Road 950 North, Hope.

The Oberholtzers had asked for permission to breed about 100 small dogs such as Yorkies and Bichons. Dozens of people in the crowd held white signs with red letters, proclaiming: Carrying signs: “No Puppy Mills! They breed misery.” Opponents raised the issues of contamination, loss of property value and concern for well-being of the dogs.

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Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.