Madison Street may – or may not – be going to the dogs.
The owner of a recently opened boarding and daycare business that caters to dog lovers found herself in the middle of a controversy last week that could force her to close. Peggy Bernar opened The Spot, 7324 W. Madison, believing she had the full blessing of local officials to sell pet-related items and to board dogs overnight. But a letter from the Department of Public Health and Safety informed her that kennel services are not allowed in the downtown area.
She would have to get special permission from the village.
“If I didn’t know that boarding wasn’t going to be OK, I wouldn’t have come here,” Bernar said of opening her new business in Forest Park.
During a zoning board meeting Feb. 17, the director of the health and safety office accused Bernar of deceiving the village, and said she never would have been issued a business license had his office known she intended to keep dogs overnight. Bernar, however, insisted she was upfront and that there has simply been a miscommunication. When she applied for a business license, Bernar said she explained she intended to provide doggie daycare. Within the pet industry, she told the zoning board, it’s understood that boarding services go hand-in-hand with daytime services.
Mike Boyle, director of the Department of Public Health and Safety, said Bernar’s description did not convey that to him.
“I don’t think you tried to deceive anybody,” zoning board Chairman Austin Zimmer said after hearing Bernar’s testimony. “Misunderstandings happen.”
Not everyone on the zoning board agreed.
Board members Richard Scafidi and Al Bucholtz voted against recommending that kennel services be permitted in the downtown business district where The Spot is located. With three of the seven board members absent, their two votes were enough to force a gridlock. The issue will be forwarded to the village council next month for a final decision.
“My main concern is with the after-the-fact application,” Scafidi said of his vote.
Bucholtz said repeatedly during the hearing that Bernar’s business could pose sanitation and safety problems, particularly because it is located next to a restaurant, is downstairs from residential condos and is in an area that has a lot of foot traffic.
Without an amendment to the zoning code allowing kennels in the neighborhood, Bernar’s request to be the first business licensed under the new regulation is moot. The zoning board did, however, vote on that issue for the purpose of providing direction to the council. That too, ended in a 2-2 tie with Zimmer and Ray Paulin supporting Bernar’s application.
About a dozen neighboring residents and business owners offered their comments on The Spot, which centered largely on whether the business was appropriately located. For some, the sound of dogs barking was a growing concern, but several condo residents said that the building’s ground-floor restaurant, which features live music, is far noisier.
“I can vouch for the fact that any noise from the dog care is nothing compared to what we deal with from the restaurant,” said Matt Komos, who lives upstairs from the two businesses.
Robert Marani owns La Bella Bistecca, the restaurant in question, and is the developer behind the entire property. Separate from any municipal regulations, he said there are condo association bylaws that may also come into play, but he is hopeful that an agreement can be reached.
“Personally, I like to see businesses succeed,” Marani said.
Business owners turned out in force to support Bernar, urging the municipality to consider the clientele The Spot will bring to Forest Park.
“The Forest Park I know has always been very supportive of businesses,” said Liz Axtell, a Chamber of Commerce and Development member and owner of American Family Insurance on Madison.
Heidi Vance and Jayne Ertel own the storefront in which The Spot is located and recently moved their own business, Team Blonde, from that location. Both women said they worked with Bernar and the village to obtain a business license for The Spot, and in no way did they try to circumvent the rules. Ertel and Vance have installed insulating foam in the walls of the building to dampen any noise, and stressed they are willing to work with neighbors who still have concerns.
Commissioner Mike Curry oversees the Department of Public Health and Safety and was in the audience during the zoning board hearing. He agreed with Zimmer, the board chairman, that Bernar did not try to deceive the village when she originally applied for a business license. Overall, said Curry, Bernar’s business “seems like a very favorable proposal,” and so long as concerns with sanitation and noise are allayed he would be inclined to support it.
Mayor Anthony Calderone said he has not yet formed an opinion on Bernar’s application, but that council members and the business community need to be open to re-evaluating what is appropriate for the downtown area.
Bernar said after the zoning board meeting that if she is not allowed to board dogs at her business, she will close and reopen in another community.
“I did my research on demographics and everything, so if I had to close I know exactly where I would go,” Bernar said.