by CHRIS ROGERS
Permits for a smaller scale commercial dog breeding kennel outside Lewiston and a new home on the edge of a Mississippi River bluff near Homer sailed through the Winona County Planning Commission last week. The Winona County Board will take final votes on the permits, likely later this month.
Greg Erickson of Erickson Family Shady Maple Farm southeast of Lewiston applied for a permit to operate a commercial dog breeding kennel with up to 20 adult dogs. Erickson said he would start with 10 dogs, mastiffs. “I want to do a good job. I love dogs. I thought this might be a good way to provide for my family,” he told the commission.
Other permitted dog kennels in the county have been slightly larger: 50 to over 100 dogs. Some members of the public and County Board strongly opposed those permits on animal welfare grounds, but there was relatively little response to Erickson’s request.
Ann Olson, of the St. Paul, Minn., -based animal welfare group Animal Folks, was the only one to speak against the permit at a public hearing. She described larger operations as the primary problem, but questioned whether the county really knew whether its conditions on dog breeding kennels were being followed. She called on the county to put a moratorium on new kennels while developing stronger regulations. “It’s more than land use or really one petitioner, the Ericksons. It’s a bigger issue: the mass production of puppies and doing it to make money,” she said.
Planning Commission members did not share her concerns. “I appreciate the comments made by the public regarding animal welfare. I think that’s something that’s very important, but I also feel, this is a family run operation that sells to private parties,” Planning Commission member Kelley Stanage said. “From what I can see in the staff report and the questions that we’ve asked, this is in keeping with our ordinance and our comprehensive plan for the county.”
There are limits to how much inspection and enforcement the county can do, Planning Commission member Lynn Carlson said. “As far as being certain that animals have good treatment, I don’t see us being able to do that on a daily basis,” she stated.
The state and federal government inspect dog breeding kennels above a certain size, with numerous rules for animal welfare. Greg Erickson said he would seek state and federal licenses for the new kennel, meaning it would be inspected. Other members of the Erickson family operate a neighboring dog kennel permitted for up to 50 dogs, but they said it only has 10 dogs, under the state threshold for licensing and inspection.
“The welfare of these dogs will be protected by the fact that [the Ericksons] are making a living off these dogs,” Planning Commission member Lewis Reiman argued. “If they’re not well taken care of, they’ll be the ones paying the price.”
The Planning Commission voted 7-1 to recommend approval of the permit, with member Patrick Byron dissenting.
The Planning Commission also recommended approval of a permit for a new blufftop home at Government Pointe near Homer. The 31-foot tall home would be located 100 feet from the top of a bluff. In addition to rules that apply to all bluffs, the county has special setbacks for Mississippi River Valley meant to safeguard the area’s scenic views. County planners raised some concerns, saying that the new home would likely be visible from Highway 61 in winter. “The overall height and location of the building site would stand out on the bluff when viewed from below, which goes against the goal of protecting scenic views,” they wrote. Staff also noted that there were suitable building sites further away from the bluff on the property.
The Planning Commission disagreed. “I think you’d have a heck of a time finding that property from the road,” commission member Arlie Herber said. “You’d have to be almost across the river or in a plane to see the house,” Carlson agreed. Planning Commission member Jordan Potter noted there are other, existing homes on Government Pointe closer than 100 feet from the bluff.
“At 31 feet, setback 100 feet, you’re not going to be able to see it from below,” the applicant, Keith Naunheim, said. One of the conditions of the permit would require the Naunheims to plant more trees as screening, which would further alleviate the issue, he added.
The Planning Commission voted 8-0 to approve the permit.