Drop of appeals ends contentious dispute between town and animal rescuer
FERRISBURGH — The town of Ferrisburgh and Sheila McGregor, who formerly operated a dog rescue out of her Sand Road home, have resolved their final legal issues, thus finally concluding a dispute with the town that lasted most of 2018, and with her neighbors for more than a decade.
That dispute this year cost the town almost $16,000 and has featured testy selectboard meetings, including accusations of lying back and forth between McGregor and some of her neighbors.
“This matter is done. We are finished our dealings with this matter with the dog rescuer,” said selectboard Chairman Rick Ebel at the Nov. 20 board meeting.
Ebel in an interview last week mentioned the occasional “rancor” among the parties — for example, he was accused of trespassing for knocking on McGregor’s door, in an email to Ebel and the Independent McGregor said there was “ignorance and evil” in Ferrisburgh, and one of her neighbors brought a dead rat in a plastic bag to a meeting to illustrate one problem on her property.
But Ebel said the cost ($15,916) and effort by the selectboard, town zoning board of adjustment and zoning administrator, board of health and health inspectors, and town constable had been worth it to resolve a situation that had lingered since neighbors first complained more than a decade ago.
The problem, according to those who lived in nearby homes, was that McGregor for years had harbored up to three dozen dogs in what according to town records is a 912-square-foot ranch home at 2512 Sand Road. The home has an attached garage and sheds on about an acre.
Most of the dogs were rescued from high-kill shelters, and town officials said they appreciated McGregor’s work and intentions, but not the scope of her effort in that location.
Neighbors had complained for years about odors, noise and loose dogs, and then this winter that a rat infestation had occurred on the property. This summer McGregor added two pigs in a pen on the property line nearest a neighbor’s home.
But because of unclear state and town regulations and interpretations thereof none of those complaints over the years had stuck. At one point a former zoning administrator did issue a notice of zoning violation, but withdrew it because he concluded state regulations took precedence. At another point McGregor dodged an animal abuse complaint, in part by temporarily reducing the number of dogs at her home and by having other rescuers rally to her side.
But this time around the Ferrisburgh Board of Health ruled that McGregor could not keep that many dogs on her property, and Ferrisburgh Zoning Administrator Bonnie Barnes issued the violation notice after concluding Heidi’s Haven was a non-conforming home business that required a permit. McGregor failed to meet a deadline to apply for that permit and was accruing a $200 a day fine.
McGregor appealed to the zoning board, arguing that her operation was grandfathered, but the board denied that appeal. McGregor then appealed that denial to Environmental Court. At the same time, she appealed the Ferrisburgh Board of Health ruling to the Vermont Board of Health.
Those disputes effectively ended when McGregor on Sept. 1 moved to a 30-acre property in Williamstown and set up shop there.
But the legal loose ends remained. The selectboard voted to give the town attorney authority to negotiate a deal with McGregor that would waive the fees she owed the town if she would dismiss the cases, as would the town, “with prejudice.” The town also acknowledged the issues raised in the board of health order have been addressed to its satisfaction.
“With prejudice” is a legal term meaning that the cases cannot be re-opened. In other words, McGregor agreed she cannot decide in the future to appeal further.
On Nov. 20 Ebel was happy to say the case is closed.
“We can turn the page,” he said.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].
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