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Afton's doggone ordinance

Afton resident Mille Porslid is still barking up the wrong tree, at least in the minds of several residents and some of the Afton Planning Commission members.

The Afton Planning Commission held a public hearing on Jan. 3 for a proposal to amend the city's kennel ordinance.

"This was the first meeting I felt that everything was on the table," Porslid said. "At least now there's a desire or willingness to really look at this."

The Planning Commission recommend denial of the ordinance, not because of changes, but because of certain requirements missing and improper language.

Porslid proposed changes to the ordinance after applying for a conditional-use permit to build an outdoor kennel to house her 19 sled dogs.

Porslid, who moved to Afton in the fall of 2008, is with the GoNorth Adventure Learning organization and goes on expeditions every spring. During their expeditions, the team is connected online with classrooms as they explore the sub-arctic.

During last Monday's public hearing, which was a full house, the comments from the public were predominantly negative and raised questions over noise, waste management and future potential dog kennels.

"The naysayers will most likely come out faster than the yaysayers," Porslid said. "Change is always controversial and I think it should be."

Afton resident Jane Pahl, who spoke during the public hearing, said she was not in support of the ordinance amendments because they were not for the betterment of the community.

"I don't know what this is going to do for Afton," she said. "I don't see where this would be something good for the city of Afton."

Afton resident Susan Sando said the city should not adopt an ordinance to allow for this different type of pet.

"Granted the program is educational, but this is our city," she said. "You have to protect the rest of us."

Porslid said she was not disheartened by the numerous negative comments during the public hearing.

"I don't take that meeting as a read on what the community feels about it," she said. "I honestly did not come here to take on the city."

A dog-friendly ordinance?

The major issue facing Porslid's application is the number of dogs she is housing. Afton's kenneling ordinance allows a maximum of six dogs on a property. And any more than five dogs that are used for training, grooming, teaching, among others, is considered a commercial kennel, also not allowed in Afton.

"Sometimes ordinances help the greater good, but other times it prohibits people's personal freedom," Commissioner Michelle Dunkirk said.

The amendments Porslid presented to the Planning Commission related to the number of dogs, waste removal, noise regulation and outdoor housing.

Porslid's amendments suggest that on properties of five to 10 acres, five animal units are allowed. On properties more than 10 acres, one additional unit would be added per acre with a maximum of 30 units for 40 acres.

Porslid said she developed the proposal after viewing other cities' animal regulations.

Additionally the amendments state waste will be managed by composting. Porslid did maintain the requirement for a conditional-use permit to build an outdoor kennel.

Planning Commission members' opinions varied.

"I feel honored that this type of activity is being considered in our city," commissioner Kitty Kilmer said.

"But, I also honor the fact that ordinances are sacred."

Commissioner Tom Nolz requested that the Planning Commission consider the ordinance on its own, and take Porslid out of the picture.

"It's important to remove the face," he said. "We have to consider how it affects the overall city."

A long expedition

Even though Porslid has been embroiled in this ordinance battle for the past several months, she said she has no intention of stopping or giving up.

"I usually choose my battles very carefully," she said. "It's not that I believe I can bend the rules, but I'm not wired to give up or give up hope."

Porslid said she doesn't want to have to leave Afton.

"I really really care for this community and I've grown to love it," she said.

Porslid said when she initially moved to the city and applied for her CUP, she was under the impression that a variance could be granted, which is not the case.

Even though the Planning Commission will recommend denial of the amendments to Afton City Council, the Planning Commission will ask for direction on whether or not it should begin work on tightening and drafting the ordinance into an acceptable form.

"I would really like to see a way to protect the greater community but also promote a unique activity like this -- it seems like we're close," commissioner Sally Doherty said. "I want to try to find a way to embrace this type of venture in Afton but still protect Afton. I think we're up to the challenge."

Porslid, who leaves on an Alaska expedition in February, said she is hopeful the ordinance can be returned to the Planning Commission, but she is fearful she won't be available to assist.

"I don't really see the doors closing until they close," she said. "It's a very scary prospect that I'm leaving and I can't sit there. I guess they would be one of the few able to contact me on the trail."

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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