City officials say dog group at private home violates law

By: Terry Oparka | Troy Times | Published April 19, 2011


A judge will decide if a Troy couple is violating city zoning laws by hosting a canine club at their home once a month.

The city of Troy issued Karen and Joseph Lichty, organizers of the Troy All Dogs Playgroup, a municipal civil infraction for hosting the group at their home on Montclair.

At issue, say city officials, is parking on the residential street during the meetings and the fact that up to 40 dogs at a time could be on the residential site.

The matter came to light when a neighbor or neighbors complained, Paul Evans, zoning and compliance specialist, said. He said a code enforcement official investigated the matter. Then Evans, the code enforcement official, an animal control officer and an attorney for the city met with the Lichtys for what he described as a candid discussion.

“We had to look at it through the eyes of the zoning code,” he said. Anyone seeking a use like the one in question in a single-family residential zone must request a special approval land use permit, which must be approved by the Planning Commission, he said.

However, the application cost, $4,500, is prohibitive, Karen Lichty said. “They’ve asked us to stop (meeting), and we have a problem with that.”

She said she and her husband organized the group, which currently has more than 900 dog owner-members, three years ago. The group visits a senior residence center, provides therapy dogs, marches in parades and participates in fundraisers, she noted.

Lichty said her 1/2-acre backyard is fenced, and the number of dogs at the events is capped at 50.

“The general average attendance is 35 dogs,” she said.

“We believe the zoning ordinance is very vague,” Lichty said, adding that she doesn’t believe the city would have questioned the situation if it were a youth or church group meeting there once a month.

City Attorney Lori Grigg Bluhm said city officials attempted to talk with the Lichtys and get compliance, and when that didn’t occur, the Lichtys were issued the infraction.

“It was the parking that pushed neighbors to the edge,” Bluhm said.

The ordinance covers uses subject to special use approval in which land use or activity shall be of “such location, size and character as to be compatible with the orderly development of the zoning district …. and shall not be detrimental to the orderly development, property values, environment or use of adjacent land.”

Prohibitions include business signage, accessory buildings for a business on residential property, off-street parking that’s more than that generated by neighboring homes within 300 feet, and vehicular traffic in excess of what normally occurs for a single-family home, Bluhm said.

The infraction states that the Lichtys are running a private, noncommercial recreation area, which is subject to parking restrictions in a single-family zone, as well as guidelines for the health, safety and welfare of nearby residents.

The Lichtys’ attorney, Bill Blackman, a member of the club, said there is no definition in the code of what a private, noncommercial recreational area is.

“It’s once a month, and a regular house for 29 days each month. … It doesn’t rise to that level,” he said.

He said club members have been told to keep the dogs on a leash in the street and to only park on the west side of the street. He added that the dogs don’t bark “all the time.” Blackman noted that 300 people have said they support the club in an online forum.

The Lichtys requested a hearing on the issue, and the matter will be taken up before a judge in the 52-4 District Court in coming weeks.

“If they want to make us stop, we want a decision maker. We are not going to roll over and go away,” Blackman said.