The city of Port Orchard allows residents to have up to three dogs and up to three cats per household. Licensed kennels are excluded from the pet limit.
But what about the family who moves into town with more than the allowed number of dogs or cats? Or the family that inherits a pet from a family member who moves into a nursing home or dies?
For those folks, the city offers a “pet variance.” Up to now, getting a variance has been a simple matter of filling out a form to document “hardship.” The city council recently revising the ordinance to factor in the impact of extra pets on neighbors.
The original proposal, discussed at an April 16 work-study meeting, was to require written permission from neighbors on either side of the residence slated for bonus pets.
The council discussed the issue of barking dogs, the most obvious potential source of annoyance. The city’s nuisance ordinance prohibits, “frequent, repetitive or continuous noise made by any animal which unreasonably disturbs or interferes with peace comfort and repose of property owners or possessors …,” Licensed kennels, shelters, vet clinics, pet shops and service dogs are exempted.
Councilman John Clauson pointed out that the number of dogs is not always the issue, when it comes to noise.
“You got five dogs that are little quiet dogs that live in the house, and you never see ‘em, I don’t care if you have 10 of ‘em,” Clauson said. “But you could have one sitting in your backyard that howls all night long, and I’m going to be unhappy.”
City Clerk Brandy Rinearson said the city’s contract with the Kitsap Humane Society covers barking dogs and yowling cats. Animal control officers from KHS are contracted to enforce this part of the city’s nuisance ordinance.
Public Works Director Mark Dorsey said health and sanitation also were concerns in allowing people to have more than three of any type of pet.
According to Rinearson, three was a somewhat arbitrary number set by the council that established the pet variance ordinance in 1999. Some cities have different limits (up to five dogs in one town she knows of); others have no ordinance limiting the number of pets allowed.
The council, after some discussion, decided it would be adequate to simply notify neighbors on either side if someone applies for a pet variance. The notification would come before the variance is approved. Members of the public can comment on any city council agenda item at the start of each meeting.
“My heartburn was we were constantly granting these with no process, and so the neighbors didn’t know,” said Councilman Rob Putaansuu. “So for me it’s about notifying the neighbors. I think you notice the issue so they know this is coming before us, and if they’ve got heartburn with it, here’s an opportunity to come and testify.”
The council agreed to place the amended ordinance on an upcoming agenda for formal approval.
Another “process” gap in the city’s code is how to handle the occasional request from a business for after-hours music and other goings-on. Such a request came before the council in early April, when Amy Igloi of Amy’s on the Bay sought permission to play music on her deck after 11 p.m. (the city’s noise curfew).
The city’s nuisance ordinance prohibits a host of public disturbances between the hours of 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., including the sound of machinery and power tools like lawn mowers, blowers, grinders, drills and power saws. The code bans loud vehicles and music from both inside and outside buildings, along with “yelling, shouting, hooting, whistling or singing on or near the public streets” during those hours.
What’s missing, said City Attorney Greg Jacoby, is “a fair and reasonable process that’s applied consistently regardless of who makes the request.”
The city now issues special event permits, reviewed by staff and approved by the council. Jacoby said the council might choose to roll the music-after-hours requests in with special events.
Several people at the meeting raised the concern about “what if” authorized events became a magnet for complaints either because of mismanagement by the business owner or in spite of their best efforts and intentions.
Rinearson said then-Cmdr. Geoffrey Marti, now Port Orchard’s police chief, suggests that such events be allowed on a one-time basis only, not as recurring events.
Marti said his officers get many complaints about noise after 11 p.m., coming from both inside and outside Bay Street establishments.
Two city residents who were at the meeting testified to the remarkable ability of noise to carry up the hill from Bay Street.
“I hear the music all the time. It wakes me up,” said Bek Ashby, who is a member of the Port Orchard Bay Street Association, a business owners group.
The council was in a quandary as to how to proceed on the after-curfew music question. Rinearson offered to see how other cities handle the issue and get back to them at a future meeting.