Lorraine Smelser, left, ponders the consequences of denial of a second Tenney request of a 30-day delay in a planning commission decision on re-forwarding a recommendation on her breeding kennel permit to the board of supervisors. Ralph Rinaldi is to far right. Photos/Roger Bianchini
FRONT ROYAL – Wendy Tenney, operator of a breeding kennel destroyed in a fatal fire in which 16 dogs died last year, has been granted a second extension on consideration of a request her kennel conditional use permit (CUP) be re-approved. A letter from Tenney attorney Jay Neal received 10-1/2 hours prior to the February 14 Warren County Planning Commission meeting explained his client was not yet prepared to present the requested materials asked for by the county planners on January 10.
At the January 10 public hearing Tenney’s attorney sought the first 30-day delay on an official recommendation by the planning commission to allow him more time to review background on the permit and the planning department’s initial recommendation it be revoked. At the January meeting Planning Commissioners Ralph Rinaldi and Hugh Henry asked that Tenney produce a building plan for a new kennel structure and a business plan for future kennel operations.
Of the status of that request on February 14, Neal wrote Planning Director Taryn Logan, “Wendy’s idea of a business plan was basically a listing of the conditions of her SUP (sic, CUP), but we discussed what I felt the PC is looking for – accurate business details about the operation – and I’ll need to meet with her to get all of those details.” Neal also cited issues with determining a contractor to build a new kennel since he reported according to his client price quotes “seem to be all over the place”.
While the vote to allow another 30-day extension was unanimous, it was not without some dissent and asides about past Tenney communications to the county government in the wake of the March 6, 2017 kennel fire.
“I don’t think we should do another 30 days – she certainly has the capability of writing something as she has shown. I’m through with it, but I’ll go along with whatever you all think,” Shenandoah District Planning Commissioner Ralph Rinaldi said of the requested extension.
“She’ll probably file a lawsuit as the next step if we don’t – I’m willing to go 30 more days,” South River Commissioner Lorraine Smelser told her colleagues.
Not my fault – yours!
Communications from Gethsemane Mountain Ranch kennel proprietor Wendy Tenney to county officials in the wake of the fatal fire have been contentious at best. In a series of letters Tenney aggressively shifts blame for the fire on county officials and codes, declining to accept any responsibility for what happened in her kennel despite county staff findings she illegally heated the kennel and that heating was the source of the fire.
Among county warnings about violations at her kennel prior to the fatal fire was a concern by animal control about use of a space heater in the kennel with frayed wiring believed caused by dog chewing. Of that concern, Tenney wrote County Planning Director Taryn Logan on October 20, “(Animal Control) Deputy Gomez expressed concern of using a space heater, yes, and told of a sheep barn burning recently because of the use. I expressed concern of having to use a heater in the first place, but explained that it is a condition of the kennel CUP permit holders as I was told from the beginning, so what choice do any of us have?”
The referenced zoning regulation highlighted in a staff response concerning heating in kennels states, “Animals shall be confined within an enclosed soundproofed, heated and air-conditioned building from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m.”
A letter to Tenney four days after the kennel fire from County Planner Matt Wendling expresses “condolences over your loss” adding “but this could have been prevented by addressing matters brought to your attention during previous visits by the Warren County Sheriff’s Office Animal Warden Deputy Gomez.” Wendling observed that, “County Planning staff has found no electrical permits for the accessory structure which housed the dogs.”
County Emergency Services Officer Raymond Cross filed the official report on the fire. Cross contacted Tenney upon arriving at the fire scene. He reported her telling him she had been awakened by “fire personnel knocking on the door.” She told him that the fire crew had managed to save three larger dogs, but that seven adult dogs and nine puppies had been lost in the fire. Cross then proceeded to investigate the scene.
“I was able to follow the burn patterns back to the area of the electrical space heater and found the wires and some components of that. I did speak with the male at the scene in reference to the breaker this power was on and he advised that he was unable to locate where it came into the panel and if it even did, again his friend wired it with no county inspection or permit,” Cross’s report states.
Contacted for this story while off duty, Cross said without his 11-month-old report in front of him he could say only he was fairly certain the referenced “male at the scene” was Wendy Tenney’s husband.
However, in her October 20 letter to County Planning Director Logan defending her operation, Tenney wrote, “And again, for the record, the night of the fire I was in complete compliance according to Warren County Code. And, my dogs were up as it was after 10 p.m., according to code; and they had heat, according to code. They couldn’t escape and it Killed Them. They died adhering to Warren County Code.”
However, the above-referenced county zoning regulation regarding HVAC to a kennel does not appear to cite space heaters or illegally wired electric to facilitate their use as the preferred means of providing adequate heating and cooling to kennel animals.
Even so, in an April 25 letter to the members of the Warren County Board of Supervisors Tenney cited her perception on procedural issues and processes to claim the County, not her, was responsible for the fire and death of 16 dogs on her property. At the point of her ire was County Planner Matt Wendling, author of the March 10 staff letter to Tenney four days after the fire. She cited a lack of harsh, certified-letter reprimands about alleged permit violations prior to the fire as an indication she had been
in compliance when the fire occurred. Tenney also referenced the planning department recommendation to revoke her kennel permit as indicative of an innate prejudice against the county’s small landowners. The Tenney property is 3.17 acres.
“I realize that as being an owner of only one property in the Agricultural section of the South River District may make me appear less than significant in your eyes, but I can assure that what is being done to me and my family is very relevant to others within the county,” Tenney wrote the supervisors. She urges the county’s elected officials to act of their “own volition” rather than upon the recommendation of their planning department and its research into her operation, research she terms “harassment”.
In concluding the March 10, 2017 county planning department response to the fatal kennel fire, Wendling wrote, “Again my condolences in regard to the loss of life and if you have any questions regarding this matter and any correspondence I will be available to assist you. Thank you for your understanding and cooperation of the County’s position in this matter.”
See what YOU did!
Above, on Jan. 10 attorney Jay Neal told county planners his client is not adversarial in seeking reissuance of a commercial kennel permit following a March 2017 fire that killed 16 dogs; below, Wendy Tenney, center, her children and mother listen on Jan. 10.
In her response to Wendling’s post-fire notice of 60 days in which to respond with reasons her kennel permit should not be revoked, Tenney assails the county planner personally while describing in detail the condition of some of the dogs that died in the fire.
“Mr. Wendling, although you expressed your condolences in your letter to start revocation, I am having a hard time believing that you understand the grief that my family and I are going through … you will never understand that Grief has no understanding in a hurting heart … Your condolences mean naught to a teenager that just lost his pet and saw him laying where fire consumed him with enough pressure of heat to split his head open. My closest one to me was lying there with her feet and ears burned off. All of the children had a favorite dog. One was so bad that only the county dog tag/license that you pushed me so hard to get, that was under him told which one he was. If you really want to be understanding, and help and assist, let me rebuild and get on with my life, because this was a big part of it,” Tenney wrote, signing off, “In God Almighty’s Hands”.
In her attorney’s January 10 comments to the planning commission, Neal contended his client was “not adversarial” and disputed what he called public accounts the Gethsemane Mountain Ranch kennel operation “as a train wreck waiting to happen.” Neal noted the Tenneys home-schooled their children and said the kennel business was a convenient commercial use that the family enjoys.
A history of warnings
Citing multiple violations of conditions of her original conditional use permit in the wake of the fatal fire, the county planning department forwarded a recommendation to the board of supervisors that her kennel permit be revoked. Issues cited in that revocation recommendation included:
· The warning from Animal Control about a space heater in the kennel with frayed wiring from believed dog chewing
· No electrical permit for the kennel building
· Accumulated trash and feces in the kennel, the former cited in rapid spread of the March 6 fire
· Septic drainage toward neighboring properties and a consequent strong odor coming from the kennel property
· A failure to license kennel dogs over a two-year period 2015-16
· Exceeding the maximum number of 11 permitted dogs by housing as many as “approximately 19” adult dogs
· Inoperable barking suppression collars
· Repeated cancellations of scheduled county staff or animal warden visits without effort to reschedule
However in the wake of the series of letters to, or copied to, the county’s elected board criticizing its planning staff’s assessment of her operation and county codes related to kennel permits, the county supervisors returned the matter to the planning commission for further review after it came before them on November 7, 2017.
And so on March 14, 2018, just over one year after 16 dogs died in the Gethsemane Mountain kennel at 63 Limeton Church Road, the Warren County Planning Commission will try to ascertain why its initial recommendation of revocation of Wendy Tenney’s conditional use permit for a breeding kennel should be reversed.
County Planning Director Taryn Logan asserts that her department has not singled Tenney out for any scrutiny that would not be applied to any permitting application.