Rift arises over Idaho Humane Society plans

A proposed campus on Overland Road has opponents.

kmoeller@idahostatesman.comMay 3, 2013 

  • HEARING ON IDAHO HUMANE SOCIETY PLANS

    When: 6 p.m. Monday

    Where: State Capitol, 700 W. Jefferson St.

    What's next? Boise planners will make a recommendation to the City Council about whether the land should be annexed to the city. The planning commission makes the final decision on the Humane Society's conditional use permit.

More than 100 people have signed petitions opposing the Idaho Humane Society's possible new location at 8506 W. Overland Road, just west of Wal-Mart.

Several also submitted letters to Boise's Planning & Zoning Commission, elaborating on why they don't support the nonprofit's expansion to the 9.7-acre site.

One of the biggest concerns is the proposed facility's 10,000-square-foot hospital, more than three times larger than the society's existing hospital. Four veterinary clinics operate within a mile of the site, including two within 1,000 feet.

In a letter, Boise resident Kent Hembree urged the city not to allow the facility to be built "on the doorstep of taxpaying businesses."

On the petitions, others wrote comments about property taxes or saving local businesses.

"No Taj Majal for animal rescue bigwigs," wrote Robert Blurton.

The deadline for written comments was Thursday, but the public may comment at a hearing Monday night.

The Idaho Humane Society's purchase of the parcel on Overland is contingent on it being annexed to the city and rezoned from residential to commercial.

Shelter officials did a two-year search for a 10-acre parcel of land more centrally located and accessible than its current site on Dorman Street, south of the airport. They say the new, larger facility is needed to better care for the roughly 13,000 animals that pass through the shelter each year.

LOCATION, LOCATION, COMMUNICATION

So why put the new shelter so close to existing veterinary clinics?

"You can't really find a location in the Valley that isn't close to some other veterinary hospital, and that also provides 10 acres of land ... in a busy area and with irrigation water," said Dr. Jeff Rosenthal, executive director of the Idaho Humane Society. "We want to be central in the Valley, moving closer to the population center."

Three of the closest clinics are: Animal Health Hospital, 8664 W. Overland Road; The Pet Doctor, 8904 Ardene St.; and Ada Animal Hospital, 8250 W. Victory Road.

Dr. Ellen German, owner of Animal Health Hospital, sent a letter to the planning commission that she hadn't received notification about the project or the March 21 neighborhood meeting.

"I have known Jeff for over 10 years, so I don't see how he could have neglected to notify me," wrote German, who worked as a veterinarian at the Idaho Humane Society's clinic.

Dr. Wayne Loertscher of Ada Animal Hospital said his staff heard about the project from news reports. He doesn't think the new shelter hospital would affect his clinic much, but he has concerns for the closer clinics.

Rosenthal said shelter officials participated in required neighborhood meetings but regret not doing more outreach.

"We could have handled this better," he said. "We regret and apologize for any concerns that may have arisen over communication issues."

German and others worry about the facility's effect on a variety of businesses, including pet grooming and boarding.

Plans submitted to the city indicate that the shelter will offer those services. But Rosenthal said the shelter has no plans to offer commercial grooming or boarding in the near future; the board just wanted to keep its options open.

"The IHS depends on some earned revenue, as well as charitable donations," he said. "We might want or feel the need to develop those activities in the future. We wanted to ensure that any future use regarding animals could be approved."

For the foreseeable future, he said, grooming services at the site would be primarily for neglected or abused animals that come to the shelter. The shelter sometimes boards animals of domestic abuse victims and others who need a safe, temporary home for a pet.

PETS AND STUDENTS

Rosenthal said the shelter's hospital operations will continue as before, just at a larger site.

The society's mission is to serve the "huge number" of low-income pet owners who have been turned away by others for inability to pay.

"The shelter animals come first," he said. "There's no incentive (for the general public) to use our facility, unless you're low-income."

The hospital will offer services on a sliding scale, based on the income of clients (up to 150 percent of federal poverty level). In the past year, 1,327 pet owners qualified.

"Many of their animals would have suffered or died without our care," Rosenthal said.

The shelter has been helping educate veterinary students for years; 40 students have come for two- to four-week training sessions in the past three years. The society is partnering with Washington State University to expand the program, and proposes to add a dorm for students at the new shelter.

The shelter clinic today has seven full-time and three part-time veterinarians, not including Rosenthal. The students will work with shelter animals, he said, not external clients.

The shelter had 108 employees, 925 volunteers and annual operating costs of $4.1 million, according to its 2011 nonprofit filing. It performed 10,045 spay/neuter procedures; investigated 661 reports of cruelty, neglect or abandonment; and did 6,471 field service calls.

PROPERTY TAXES AND BARKING DOGS

As a nonprofit, the Idaho Humane Society would pay no property taxes.

That's the primary reason Garden City resident Sharon Shin opposes the facility.

"I see the need for (tax) monies to come from that location," Shin wrote.

"A significant amount of money will be lost by the city in uncollectable property taxes from this nonprofit group," wrote Dr. Linda Donerkiel, owner of The Pet Doctor. "The surrounding businesses, all which pay property taxes and sales tax, will be in jeopardy of losing income, and maybe even going out of business, thus further decreasing the amount of taxes collected by the city."

The owners of the Overland property, which has a farm exemption, paid $1,783 in taxes on the land in 2012, according to the Ada County Assessor's Office.

If developed by a for-profit commercial entity, the county - or city, if annexed - could gain tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands, in annual property taxes.

Rosenthal noted that a church across the street doesn't pay property taxes, and neither do the nearby federal buildings.

"If the church had bought it, would they be protesting?" Rosenthal asked.

Susan Fenrich, who lives on nearby Chase Street, told the Statesman that she's worried about noise from the facility.

Rosenthal said people outside can't hear dogs barking inside the current shelter, and the new building will be designed by experts.

Katy Moeller: 377-6413

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