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Kennel applications make for a classic balancing act

The easy answer is no when applications arise for the likes of dog kennels and gravel pits: the benefits accrue to just one property owner, while others put up with noise, traffic, dust … or at least the potential of such problems.

This week’s decision by Woolwich council to approve a small kennel in Elmira is not on the scale of other neighbourhood/NIMBY concerns. In fact, the matter was handled amicably in the best tradition of very local governance.

There have been far more contentious issues, however, particularly around aggregate extraction and much larger kennels. In this case, the scale of the operation and the number of neighbours lessen the impact. Still, there could be some negatives for those living nearby, as was discussed.

As with previous such applications, the bigger-picture issue is what happens if and when there are complaints.

This is not to single out the kennel in question. Really, there are longstanding issues when it comes to dealing with complaints from the public, no matter how valid. Take, for instance, the odour problems associated with what is now the Lanxess plant in Elmira. There was little action and even fewer penalties over the years it took for the complaints to be addressed. Gravel pits are another problem child Woolwich residents are now well versed on: across Ontario, provincial officials have routinely failed to protect the public interest, let alone shut down offenders, even in cases where the pits should never have been allowed in the first place.

Once a business is in operation, officials seem loath to levy fines – even the inconsequential ones laid out in toothless regulations – when there are ongoing disturbances.

In that climate, residents are right to be sceptical government officials will be there to help them. In cases where the municipality imposes a (potential) problem on a neighbourhood, there must be provisions to remedy the decision.

For municipalities, that differs from often meddlesome bylaws covering parking and property standards, for instance.

Few people would take issue with the municipality taking action in the case, for instance, of an incessantly barking dog. Everyone within earshot would welcome the intervention. The same goes for other noise-related complaints – loud parties, stereos routinely cranked to 10, homeowners often eager to use power tools early in the day or late at night, to name a few. These instances are universally disruptive, and are precisely why enforcement is necessary: some people just aren’t considerate of their neighbours.

But many of the actions have far less visible benefit to the community, which, after all, is the sole reason for rules to exist.

Everyone it seems has a story about overzealous enforcement. That’s especially true in larger cities, where parking is enforced largely as a cash grab to, among other things, pay for expensive enforcement regimes. To be sure, busy cities do require some kind of order, otherwise people would park inappropriately with abandon, and there would be little turnover in available parking spots. But horror stories abound, as do altercations between municipal employees and the people they’re supposed to serve.

That’s less of an issue in the townships, of course. Ideally, enforcement locally would come with a light touch – education rather than punitive action, for instance – in keeping with the township’s rural lifestyle. That extends to neighbours being more, well, neighbourly in settling disputes.

A much heavier hand should be applied to ongoing problems that can’t be solved by changes. People have a right to expect their quality of life to be undiminished by government decisions. Failure to ensure that demands a way for officials to change course.

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