By Ken Smith
The Girdwood Board of Supervisors’ meeting Monday, June 18, had a little bit of everything: Road closures, tennis course renovation grant proposal, the need for a community center maintenance fund, Forest Fair application deadline nearing – and a complaint by a neighbor about too many dogs on another resident’s property.
First, let’s start with the too many dogs complaint. Late in the agenda under old business, CeCe Mendonsa approached the board with a complaint and request for a call to action by the Supervisors to address what she considered a loophole in the Municipality’s application process for a variance allowing eleven or more dogs on a property.
At issue was a Girdwood resident, Theresa Newman, who lives on Saint Johann Loop next door to Mendonsa. Newman had recently applied for a multi-use license for 11 plus dogs, Mendonsa told the board. A member of the Anchorage Land Use and Zoning office went out to inspect the outside area, and an animal control officer inspected the inside of the house located on a one-third-acre lot. The officers found the conditions satisfactory to approve a multi-use license for five dogs, and since that time 7 puppies were born five months ago and a new multi-use license application is being reviewed for the additional dogs.
“Why I’m here is that this is a highly dense residential area,” said Mendonsa. “I have 60 signatures and there’s about 100 in the works. I went through our neighborhood; a small little loop…Right now residents are allowed about 7 minutes continued barking 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. If it goes beyond that it constitutes a violation. The resident is exempt with 20 minutes allowed and the night time rules remain the same.”
Mendonsa said a lot of people wrote to animal control and voiced their concerns. Mendonsa said she operates a business out of her home and the barking at times has been steady, much more than 20 minutes. She said later that the barking has been less a problem since frequent complaints were filed against Newman.
“My first concern is that it’s a violation,” Mendonsa said. “I have a business, and it sets a precedent, and it decreases home values, and there’s a smell of urine. Finally, animal control can not give us the same service as Anchorage.”
There is no animal control officer currently assigned to Girdwood. The city allows households to have four dogs, anything more and you need a special license, and “There’s no cap,” she said.
“I think this should be taken up with Jennifer Johnston (assemblywoman for Girdwood),” said Diana Livingston, sitting in the audience.
“Initially I complained in March when I saw she had seven puppies,” Mondonsa continued. “She (Newman) said there were four, and I said there were 12. And requested in writing for a copy of the application.”
“Other people can do the same,” added audience member Scott Amy. “We all have dogs, but you don’t need more than four.”
Co-chair Erin Eker said Mendonsa should seek a change in the zoning and submit a letter to the GBOS, and seek a variance in the zoning law that would require approval of the GBOS before the municipality approves it.
“Right now there’s no other process involved,” said Eker, “She (Newman) didn’t come to us. This really is against the public process,” Eker said, “and we have our own process down here, and they should respect that.”
A day after the meeting this reporter spoke with Newman on the phone. She was unaware there was a GBOS meeting the night before, but she openly discussed the issue of her dogs.
“One of my dogs had puppies (seven), but I’m planning on moving and doing dog mushing with them,” she said. “Unfortunately this is all over her (Mendonsa) wanting one of my puppies, and I said I didn’t want her to have it. She had a dog that was in a kennel all day and howled all day, and I told her I didn’t want her to have a dog kept like that, and she got angry abut it.”
Mendonsa responded to that comment later and adamantly refuted it. “It’s about having twelve dogs next door,” she said. “It’s not even about her, it’s about her getting this license and not having to go through GBOS and the Land Use Committee, and this should go through a public process to have twelve or more dogs.”
Newman said she is an avid runner and hiker and has a large pen for the dogs and takes them for hikes at least three times a day, and the dogs provide protection from bears. She said in the past, for about four years, she took care of Mendonsa’s dog. The dog was put down a year-and-a-half ago, she said.
“I haven’t had issues with anybody in the neighborhood and kids have come over to play with the puppies,” she said. “CeCe has started video taping me and there’s times when I’ve tried to give my dogs a bath, and it’s made it difficult on me. I think when they were babies they howled, but that phase is over. That was only the first six weeks.”
The breed of the dogs is a shepherd mix, and Newman said she does skijoring with one of the dogs and is interested in mushing and working with some of them for guiding.
“It’s very unfortunate that she’s taking time out of her life to create a campaign of hate against me,” she said. Newman, 32, has lived in Girdwood for 10 years and owned her current home for seven years. “I think there’s a big misunderstanding going on, and I think CeCe’s made it a personal issue because I wouldn’t give her a puppy.”
Newman said her greatest concern is that the dogs are taken away from her, and she’s become apprehensive to walk around the neighborhood or go outside with her dogs in her yard. “This has completely turned my life upside down. And she (Mendonsa) has every intention of having my dogs taken away. I understand her concerns, but she’s just taking it to a whole new level and being unreasonable. I don’t need to live in a place where I can’t even go out my backdoor on a nice day. And a lot of the neighbors who don’t know me are making complaints against me.”
Newman’s family is coming up to visit, and she is going to ask them if they’ll take some of the puppies so she can keep them in the family. “Otherwise I’m going to keep them and do activities with them,” she said. “I love Girdwood, and I always thought it was a dog friendly place, and it’s all very sad and disappointing for me.”
In other agenda items at the meeting, GBOS liaison to the city, Kyle Kelley, gave a road maintenance report early on in the meeting. He started with Town Square road work, which he said was a week behind schedule. “Work first began on Holmgren Place, but now they’re starting on Hightower Road,” he said. The delay was because of a misunderstanding of Environmental Protection Agency regulations, but that has been worked out.”
The goal is to complete Hightower Road before the end of the summer so it’s ready for school. It’s the main road into the Girdwood School, he said.
Next Kelly spoke briefly about the Anchorage Waste Water and Utility expansion going on as the city installs a new power building and another utility building. The work is in full swing, he said.
Other items Kelly mentioned: Girdwood Parks and Recreation is still looking for a campground host (contact parks and recreation at 343-8374). He said calcium chloride has been spread over some streets to cut down on dust and harden the roads, and culvert and ditching is underway on four roads in town.
Girdwood Fire Chief Bill Chadwick next addressed the board and said six new volunteers joined the Fire Department. Currently there are 50 personnel along with the six probationary members.
In Forest Fair news, Shine Herfindahl spoke. She is no longer a member of the Forest Fair Committee, and was speaking on behalf of Guss O’Malley who has been heading up the committee but was out of town. She said they’re still waiting on one final permit approval and still need a signed contract from the Muni for a security contractor.
The board did not cite any issues concerning this year’s Forest Fair, which is July 6, 7 and 8. A motion to provide a fee waiver was made, as is done every year, to allow for the finalization of the contract with the city.
“It would have been really helpful to have been doing this last month rather two weeks before the Forest Fair,” Eker said. The motion to continue the fee waiver process from last year was unanimous.
Next, the board addressed $60,000 in savings in the budget plus $20,000 from last year’s budget. A motion to move the saved amount into a line item in order to be able to spend it was made and passed unanimously.
Kyle Kelly then spoke again for Parks and Recreation and work being done to secure a state grant to rehab the two tennis courts next to the skate park. He said construction costs were estimated at $175,000. “When we originally did an estimate it was less than $100,000, “ said GBOS member Dave Chadwick.
“Basically, the longer we wait the more expensive it will be,” responded Kelly. The board gave Kelly its support in securing a grant for the tennis court work.
Girdwood resident Diana Livingston followed with a report to the board about starting a capital improvement fund that would take care of major repairs to the Girdwood Library and Community Center. The center opened in 2008, following a 10-year period during which the Scott and Wesley Gerrish Library Boosters worked on getting a community center built. Livingston said the Boosters are now concerned that there may not be funds available for proper maintenance on major construction items.
“If they’re (the city) still in control and hiring contractors, it could come back and bite us,” sad GBOS member and co-chair Karen Zaccaro.
“The municipality is very strict on who gets contracts and does the work,” said Chadwick. “In many cases, if there were a way we could do it ourselves, it would be a lot better.”
Kelly added “there are also union rules, but I’ll try to figure it all out.”
“Right now we’re in the information gathering phase and hopefully we’ll have something figured out by the next meeting,” said Eker.
The board concluded with an announcement that a special session is to be held Thursday, June 21, at 2 p.m. to determine new roles of the GBOS. The public is invited.