LENOX -- In apparent record time for a business or professional venture seeking an exception from the town's zoning restrictions, a proposed cats-only veterinary practice won the swift and enthusiastic approval from the Zoning Board of Appeals.
The board's unanimous vote followed a 20-minute public hearing and an even briefer board discussion on the application from veterinarian Sally Umlauf, formerly with South Street Veterinary Services in Pittsfield.
After a routine 20-day appeal period, Umlauf can start interior alterations to the former Lenox Internal Medicine clinic at 450 Pittsfield Road (Routes 7 and 20). The cat clinic, which hasn't been named, is due to open this summer.
After a brief presentation by Umlauf's attorney, Jeffrey Grandchamp, of Grinnell Partners in Williamstown, board members read three letters of support submitted by James Nejaime, owner of the nearby Spirited wine, liquor and food shop, and by residents. Additional backing was voiced by two cat fanciers.
A variance for the business was required because Lenox zoning bylaws omit any mention of veterinary services, meaning they are not permitted unless the ZBA grants an exception.
"I think it's a mistake in the bylaw, which was brought up twice before, where we ended up giving use variances for exactly this kind of thing," said ZBA member Shawn Considine, pointing out that the site is already set up for a doctor.
"Our zoning bylaws have some real limitations," ZBA Chairman Ethan Berg said.
"If we can't find a place to open desirable businesses that the community wants, and if we can't find a place in a commercial area to care for our pets, we have even bigger problems than the zoning bylaws," Berg said. "I'm comfortable with this application as it's presented."
After the application was swiftly approved, Berg said, "I think Lenox is now safe for cats."
Umlauf's application was aided by precedent -- the Berkshire Cat Hospital was operated by Dr. Jennifer Kissinger at a nearby less commercially developed area on the Pittsfield-Lenox Road from 1997 to 2001 under a variance granted by the ZBA.
But, as Grandchamp pointed out, "this particular location is much better suited for a commercial enterprise. The reason we're here is for a variance to allow the overnight hospitalization of cats."
He also requested and was granted a waiver from a site plan for the facility since no exterior changes to the 1,600-square-foot clinic are planned.
The full-service facility will offer exams and treatment for cats as outpatients, surgical and dental procedures, emergency services, and overnight hospitalization of no more than six cats only when medically necessary. No day care or kennel services will be provided. Umlauf, 37, said she plans to hire two to six employees.
Umlauf has emphasized that cats, stressed by a visit to the vet especially if they're ill, benefit from a canine-free setting, a point emphasized by several cat owners who wrote in or appeared at the hearing.
The location is in a strip mall that also houses a Subway sandwich shop and an upcoming branch of Lee Bank with drive-up services as approved previously by the zoning board.
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