Supervisors to Review Veterinary Clinic

On June 5, the County Board of Supervisors will take up a request for a home veterinary clinic that has brought unrest to a quiet Montecito neighborhood and has renewed a heated debate about the ramifications of running a business in a small residential area.

Bonnie Franklin, a Santa Ynez veterinarian who grew up in Montecito, is moving forward to create a concierge practice on Greenworth Place despite fervid opposition from neighborhood residents and several County leaders.

In her proposal, Franklin is seeking to run a veterinary clinic in a 139-square-foot den at her mother’s Montecito home and would pick up the animals in the morning and return them to her clients by the end of the day. She said she would take care of no more than five animals per day and that the animals would be stored in a kennel.

The chief reason for operating out of Montecito, Franklin has maintained, was to be able to work while taking care of her young child and her ailing mother.

“I thought this was an important time to be with my family and there was a family need,” she said last fall.

Her request though has endured stiff opposition from a strong alliance of residents who worry Franklin’s practice will increase traffic in their neighborhood, will bring unwanted health risks and could drive down their property values. Two Montecito real estate experts, Chuck Farish, of Coldwell Banker, and Robert Kemp, of Village Properties, have submitted letters to the County confirming that any business in a residential neighborhood can create problems that, whether real or perceived, could have a harmful effect on real estate values.

“Any commercial venture dropped squarely in the middle of a tranquil, private setting such as this neighborhood,” Kemp writes, “is not only a distasteful idea, but if approved, would be decidedly catastrophic for everyone concerned.”

Franklin has received a letter from the California Veterinary Medical Board that played down the health risks of an at-home veterinary practice. Neighbors say they trust the authority of that letter, but they still don’t want to take any chances.

Local leaders have defended the neighbors’ worries. Last year, the Montecito Association filed a strong recommendation against Franklin’s request and in September the Montecito Planning Commission unanimously struck down her proposal. This followed detailed opposition from County planners, who said Franklin’s den would be too small for a viable practice and that the clinic didn’t conform to “the character of the neighborhood.”

Despite unquestioned support so far, Franklin’s neighbors fear that as the veterinarian takes her case to the highest rungs of County authority that their entreaties will fall on deaf ears. County supervisors, they say, tend to view cases from a macro-standpoint and may be less sensitive to issues of neighborhood compatibility.

This speaks to the collective sentiment of a neighborhood whose hopes have been raised, only to be dashed shortly after. Last September, two days after the planning commission voted down the veterinary clinic, Sally Hanseth, Franklin’s closest neighbor, proclaimed that a “huge burden” had been “lifted and put to rest.”

Less than seven days later, Ms Franklin appealed the commission’s decision.