The Medford Planning Commission wouldn't bite Monday on an idea that would make it easier to open a dog day care center.
The commission struggled to offer the City Council possible changes to an ordinance governing kennels, which requires a 200-foot setback from other businesses. But anything less than 200 feet raised objections with the commission, particularly about potential noise complaints.
"Do we want to do something like this?" Commissioner Robert Tull asked.
Robert Dudley, a 46-year-old Medford resident, appealed to the City Council last month to allow him to open a dog day care center near other businesses.
Dudley said the 200-foot setback makes it almost impossible to find a location for his center, which he said would be different than a 24-hour kennel.
His center would keep the dogs active all day, which Dudley said would generate less noise from barking.
Dog day care facilities are popular in other metropolitan areas and often are situated in locations that offer easy access for pet owners.
K-9 Playtime was allowed to operate as a dog grooming site in Medford in the early 2000s, even though the owners also touted it as a dog day care center.
The Planning Commission said it might be possible for a dog day care center to operate without adhering to the 200-foot setback as long as conditions are placed on the business to limit noise.
"One condition is no 24-hour operation," Tull said.
He also suggested opaque fencing in the exercise area so dogs couldn't see out and be stimulated by the presence of other dogs or humans.
But the commission worried that a dog day care center could generate enough noise that it would be a nuisance to neighbors, particularly if the city granted an exception to the 200-foot setback. Even if a dog day care center was allowed, it could still be subject to noise nuisance laws.
The sound of a dog barking or a baby crying can reach a decibel level of 110 — higher than a stereo at maximum volume but still lower than a jet engine, according to a city study. From a distance of 200 feet, the decibel level drops to 64, about twice as noisy as light traffic.
"A 200-foot setback doesn't provide enough security," said Commissioner Norm Nelson. "A dog's bark carries. The 200-foot setback is invalid."
Nelson said he worried city officials might be setting businesses up for failure if the day care generates noise complaints, particularly if it is located less than 200 feet from other businesses.
Commissioners said dog day care centers might be more acceptable situated near the airport or freeway where there already is a lot of ambient noise.
To stimulate discussion about the dog day care center, a mock application was submitted to the Planning Commission by a planning staff member. The application promised triple layers of glass on the windows and extra insulation, allowing the building to be just 25 feet next to an adjacent building.
However, the outside exercise yard caused the most discussion because it only would have a 50-foot setback from neighboring properties.
Commissioner Tim Jackle said he wondered what would prevent dogs from barking while they're outside.
"There would be some barking," said John Adam, the city's long-range planner. "But there would be adult supervision."
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.