To the dogs?

January 05, 2012

The Humane Society of Harford County had been an embattled organization for a number of years.

The private, not-for-profit organization that manages the de facto county animal shelter has at times been at odds with factions of volunteers as well as with the county government. The organization's relationship with the county is critical and mutually beneficial as the county provides substantial funding for the shelter, but doesn't have to pay a lot more to maintain a full-fledged municipal pound.

Of late, however, the organization's leadership has managed to rise above some of the pettiness, and frankly mismanagement, that had been at the root of the shelter's misfortunes that linger in recent memory.

Given the shelter's performance, it would be easy to conclude that a brewing tempest in a teapot over a zoning issue relating to expanding a dog park on the 25-acre animal shelter grounds is something the local humane society stumbled into. This, however, doesn't appear to be the case.

For six decades — longer than many people living in Harford County have lived here — the humane society has operated a shelter at 2208 Connolly Road in Fallston. For the past five of those years, it has maintained a dog park that has become something of a regional attraction for dog owners and their best friends.

The dog park, county officials say, was built on the up and up, but there now seems to be some sort of lapse in the paperwork. The paperwork issue – a need for a zoning variance – means action on the part of the county board of zoning appeals is required before the dog park can be expanded.

Generally speaking, zoning variances make for weak public policy. Zoning laws are in place to preclude certain kinds of construction in certain areas, and variances allow exceptions to those rules.

In this case, however, the humane society property has a special commercial-exempt zoning classification, and, because there is no definition for a dog park in the zoning code, the variance being sought is for a dog run. This all seems pretty contrived for a rather large scale animal shelter that has been in operation for so long.

Expanding a dog park on the 25-acre grounds of a major animal shelter that has been in operation since before the first satellite was put in orbit hardly seems like an issue that should require so much legal maneuvering.

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