EH ZBA: Dog Walker Not Law Breaker

Lori Marsden, a professional dog walker, is not violating the East Hampton town code when she plies her trade, the town zoning board of appeals agreed last week. Independent/T. E. McMorrow
Lori Marsden, a professional dog walker, is not violating the East Hampton town code when she plies her trade, the town zoning board of appeals agreed last week. Independent/T. E. McMorrow

“Doggie daycare is not a crime,” said Carl Irace as he addressed the East Hampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals on January 29. Irace was speaking as the attorney for Lori Marsden, a professional dog walker living in Northwest Woods. On February 26, ZBA members echoed Irace’s statement, as they reviewed the testimony from the January hearing.

Marsden and Irace are seeking a reversal of a decision by the town’s chief building inspector, Anne Glennon. She had ruled that dog walking and dog sitting were not businesses that town residents could legally run from their homes. Her reasoning, in part, was that such a business would entail activities and sounds that would be apparent outside the residence.

Glennon had made the ruling in response to a letter from Irace in 2018. The year before, the town had charged Marsden with a misdemeanor crime for running what code enforcement officers believed was an illegal business from her home, after a couple of her neighbors on Saddle Lane had complained to the town. That charge remains open in East Hampton Town Justice Court.

However, the possibility that Marsden will ever actually stand trial became much less likely after the ZBA’s February 26 discussion, which was led by Tim Brenneman, who was appointed to the board in January. Brenneman laid out a timeline for his fellow board members.

Marsden and her husband have lived on Saddle Lane for many years. Marsden has been running her dog walking business out of their home for about 13 years. Sometimes clients will drop dogs off if they are going to Manhattan. Marsden normally walks the dogs under her care on the beach, Brenneman said.

Thirteen people either testified or wrote letters to the board in defense of Marsden, while four neighbors spoke or wrote letters against the legality of running a dog walking business from home. Until around the time the charge was brought against Marsden by the town, there had never been a complaint against her, Irace told the board on January 29.

During that hearing, Irace said that there were 57 other professional dog walkers in East Hampton, who could now face criminal charges, if the building department’s action was upheld. In addition, other residents who run businesses out of their houses, such as music teachers, could face charges, as well. “You would have to get site plan review to become a dog sitter,” Irace said.

These businesses run from the home are vital for many East Hampton residents, who are being squeezed out as the town becomes more gentrified, Irace has argued.

Brenneman cited the town code regulating home businesses. While it specifically bans breeding kennels from being run from a residence, there is no other mention of dog care as a prohibited business. He said that when the town board crafted the law, it did not appear that it intended to make the type of dog care Marsden provides a prohibited home occupation. He then pointed to the town code concerning noise. While the code does prohibit allowing dogs in a house to bark for more than 15 minutes straight, Brenneman said that he was not convinced by an audio recording presented to the board by neighbor John Collier that that was the case on Saddle Lane.

While he ultimately indicated that he supported reversing the building inspector’s finding, and that Marsden, under the town code, has a “legitimate home occupation,” he did say that “there are compelling issues on both sides,” and suggested that the town board take up the issue in the future, to clarify the law.

Chairman John Whelan, along with fellow board members Roy Dalene and Terry Berger, all agreed with Brenneman’s take, and instructed town attorney Beth Baldwin to craft a finding on the appeal accordingly. Once that written finding reversing the building inspector’s determination is ratified by the board, then it will be official: in the Town of East Hampton, doggie daycare is not a crime.

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