Rhonda Silence

County board approves permits for two dog kennels in Colvill area

After each meeting of the Cook County Board of Commissioners, WTIP reaches out to a commissioner or staff member to learn more about actions taken at the meeting. The county board met on Tuesday, June 22 and WTIP checked in with Cook County Administrator James Joerke.

The meeting, like so many others, was held via Zoom because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but Administrator Joerke was in the commissioner’s room in the courthouse just in case a citizen wanted to join the meeting in person. The courthouse opened to the public on June 1.

The topic that took up the majority of the meeting was the discussion of two dog mushing kennels in the County Road 14 area of Grand Marais.

The county board ultimately recommended approval of permits but not before consideration of neighborhood concerns and lengthy discussion.

The first permit considered was a refresher of sorts. A conditional use permit request from Jacob Leingang, who wants to begin a new mushing career was before the county board in May. The planning commission had recommended approval for his 25-dog kennel on a 7.5-acre lot on Frank’s Way, off of County Road 14. At that time, commissioners felt they needed more information and sent the CUP back to the Cook County Planning Commission.

The Planning Commission itself had a lengthy discussion but finally decided to stand by its recommendation for approval. County board members said they shared concerns that have been expressed about the size of the lot and the ability to meet setback requirements, about noise and animal waste. However, it was also noted that Leingang’s request met the criteria for conditional use under the current kennel ordinance.
It was also noted that the two-year, 25-dog permit was viewed as a “middle ground” compromise by the planning commission from the original 45-dog request. Land Services and Planning & Zoning Administrator Bill Lane said the planning commission approval of the permit was a challenge of sorts to Leingang to demonstrate he can meet permit conditions in this residential area. See the planning commission report on Leingang’s request here.

After a lengthy discussion, the county board voted to approve an interim use permit by a 3-2 vote. Voting yes were commissioners Bob Svalson, Staci Hawkins, and Ann Sullivan. Casting no votes were Ginny Storlie and Dave Mills.

A second request for a conditional use permit for a dog kennel came from Erin Altemus and Matthew Schmidt, who have had a kennel up the Gunflint Trail near Mush Lake. Altemus and Schmidt requested a CUP for a 45-dog kennel on 9.92 acres on County Road 14. They plan to live at the kennel. See the conditional use permit and other information here.

The planning & zoning packet reported that 12 letters of notification were sent to nearby property owners and four letters in support of the CUP were received, with three opposed. The letters were similar to those received regarding the Leingang property. Those in support of the CUP talked about the tradition of mushing in the community and about the history of the property itself, which was used for a dog kennel operation Supporters said they believed Altemus and Schmidt would be responsible kennel operators. The letters in opposition expressed concern about the noise of a large outdoor kennel and about the treatment of waste from so many dogs on waterways in the area.

After significant discussion, the county board finally voted to approve the Altemus/Schmidt conditional use permit on a 4 to 1 vote, with Commissioner Ginny Storlie casting the lone no vote.

Before the approvals were given though, there was a very lengthy discussion of whether there should be a “pause” as County Board Chair Dave Mills described it. He noted that the last kennel ordinance revision was in 2009. Commissioner Ann Sullivan agreed, adding that not only the neighborhood where these kennels are being operated has changed, but there is better science now. She said she would like to see the kennel ordinance include requirements for testing of water runoff and area wells. The board considered setting a moratorium on all kennels but decided instead to approve the current requests but to revisit the ordinance later.

The current Cook County ordinance pertaining to dog kennels, can be seen here.

In the meantime, both kennel owners will be able to develop their land to operate dog kennels.

WTIP’s Rhonda Silence spoke with County Administrator James Joerke about all this, as well as other items on the county board agenda, such as the county’s economic development tax abatement policy, about the county’s planning for spending of approximately $1.6 million American Rescue Funds, and the retirement announcement from Information Systems Director Rena Rogers.

Here’s their conversation.

**This article has been corrected to accurately report the vote on the interim use permit for Jacob Leingang. Commissioner Ann Sullivan cast a yes vote and Commissioner Dave Mills voted no. WTIP apologizes for the error. **