Heidi’s Haven decisions delayed in Ferrisburgh

FERRISBURGH — A second Ferrisburgh Board of Health hearing last week devoted to a rat infestation on the Sand Road property of a Ferrisburgh dog rescuer produced an agreement that the problem had at least temporarily ended, but did not yield a resolution to the issue.
At the end of 45 minutes of testimony on May 29 from Ferrisburgh Health Control Officer Jamieelynn Gaboriault and her attorney, Jim Carroll; dog rescuer Sheila McGregor and her attorney, Lesley Deppman; and McGregor’s neighbors; the Board of Health — which is also the Ferrisburgh selectboard — announced it would recess and render a decision on June 19.
In a May 30 follow-up phone interview, Selectboard and Board of Health Chairman Rick Ebel said board members in their deliberations would at least consider a series of recommendations made by Gaboriault and Carroll at the hearing and by Gaboriault in her original emergency health order on the infestation.
Those were that McGregor continue to cooperate with a pest control company, allow town representatives to make a follow-up visit in early June, continue to remove dog feces from her yard and keep it clean, keep debris 18 inches away from interior and exterior walls, cooperate with her next-door neighbors on pest control, and work to move her rescue operation off the property, as she has pledged to do in previous public meetings.
“When we make our decision and write that up, our goal will be to address the specific health order and the points that were outlined, and to do so in the manner that should resolve this in a longer-term period,” Ebel said. “I can’t say a whole lot more about what we’re working on, but the goal is to address this fully and to be able to move forward. And the points that were in those recommendations are what we’re going to work with and go from there.”
But Deppman argued that because the town’s representatives agreed there was no longer an infestation the emergency order should be ended because “the requirements of the order have been met” and “there is no risk.”
She also added that McGregor would “wind down the rescue operation” by Sept. 30, and produced a letter from an Ehrlich Pest Control representative that stated the rat infestation “has been resolved.”
“It is our position the board has no authority to continue the order now that the emergency has passed,” Deppman said.
Neighbor Lauren Fisher disagreed that all feces was gone from the yard, saying what she called a “giant pile” of composted feces to the rear of McGregor’s 1-acre property, which she rents from her brother, is not only a source of odors but also a health hazard that could still attract rats.
Fisher also said she is skeptical of McGregor’s commitment to end or scale down her Heidi’s Haven rescue operation. Earlier last month McGregor said she had 20 dogs and about a dozen cats in her 912-square-foot ranch home, which has a one-car attached garage with a back room. Heidi’s Haven has generated complaints from neighbors for more than a decade.
Fisher cited McGregor’s refusal to accept the Addison County Humane Society’s April offer to take in some of her dogs. McGregor first said she was unfamiliar with the Humane Society, even though she has interacted with its representatives several times over the years, and then said she didn’t know about its adoption procedures.
Fisher said that refusal called into question McGregor’s sincerity, and said as of last week there remained 23 Heidi’s Haven dogs up for adoption weeks after McGregor pledged to shutter her operation.
“That shows you how little effort has been made to have them adopted,” Fisher said.
Carroll outlined a proposal that included a number of conditions, including town monitoring of McGregor’s efforts to reduce “the presence of a large number of cats and dogs,” which he said would be a constant risk for another infestation.
The Independent asked Ebel how Ferrisburgh could assure McGregor, who has in the past said she would discontinue rescuing but did not, would in fact wind down her operation without continued town oversight.  
“We’re taking our time to spell this out carefully, and we’re working with counsel. So our goal is to address all the issues that led up to the emergency health order,” Ebel said.
Meanwhile, McGregor insisted there have been no rats on her property since February, in part because of her cooperation with pest control efforts and in part because of successful deployment of cats that hunt rats, a tactic that she said has been successful elsewhere.
“There has been no burrowing or feces on my property since this whole mess started,” she said.
The Ferrisburgh Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) also held a May 23 hearing on Heidi’s Haven — that one related to McGregor’s appeal of an April 17 notice of zoning violation issued to her by Ferrisburgh Zoning Administrator Bonnie Barnes. The ZBA made no decision at that hearing on McGregor’s appeal, but said it would do so within a required 45-day period.
Barnes contends that Heidi’s Haven is a home occupation that requires a conditional use permit in its residential zone and originally requested that McGregor apply for such a permit. If McGregor did apply for permit, the ZBA could attach conditions to an approval that could include a limit on the number of animals on the property.
McGregor did not apply, and she maintains her operation is grandfathered based on more than 15 years of dog rescue work at the site. According to hearing minutes, “Sheila stated that the town was aware of her operation as early as 2002 because she regularly interacted with Donna Baldwin, the town’s animal control officer.”
According to minutes Barnes concluded “that a home occupation began at the earliest in 2007, when the town received its first information that Sheila McGregor was operating as a kennel.”
Board members said in the minutes that to “prove she is grandfathered in McGregor needs to have records that show when she started her business, which right now she does not have.” McGregor said she has records “back to 2005 and would need to search for records prior to that.”
According to minutes Deppman argued McGregor is not in violation because her operation falls under a home occupation category that permit it because it is “within Sheila’s home, has no employees or outside help, and no public traffic.”
But Board Chairman Norm Smith said that category requires that the business be “contained inside the home,” and noted the dogs regularly go outside and create “noise and odor detectable at the boundaries of the premises.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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