The opening of a new East Nashville doggy daycare prior to final zoning inspections has led Metro Codes to issue a stop work order notice, making the business the potential target of criminal prosecution if operations continue without the department’s clearance.
“They have opened for business before they have obtained a use and occupancy certificate,” said Metro Codes Director Terry Cobb, adding that certain conditions were required to be met before opening. “They have opened prematurely.
“We’ve issued a stop work notice,” Cobb added. “Our next step would be to issue a warrant and prosecute in environmental court.”
Cobb’s statements are directed at The Dog Spot, a new doggy daycare, grooming and training establishment at 1004 Gallatin Ave., situated inside the building that previously housed Hot Flix, a purple-painted discount pornographic video shop with a disturbing history –– the former Hot Flix owner hanged himself there in April 2010.
The Dog Spot, which has five full-time employees, opened on Aug. 22. Owners –– both of the daycare and the building –– are twin brothers Andy and Chad Baker, whom many in East Nashville commonly call the “The Baker Boys.”
Metro Codes inspectors visited The Dog Spot earlier this week where they photographed Chad Baker holding the stop work order notice while giving a middle-finger gesture to the photographer. The picture has been circulating in Metro circles. Cobb has a copy.
“That’s the photo of the week,” Cobb said. “It’s posted on my bulletin board behind my desk.
“The caption would be, ‘Notice has been delivered, and receipt of said notice has been acknowledged,’ ” he added.
Chad Baker, The Dog Spot’s principal owner, could not be reached for comment. According to The Dog Spot manager Michael Minunno, Baker is en route to Jamaica with his girlfriend.
Armed with blueprints and Metro zoning documents, Andy Baker –– who works with his brother –– stopped by The City Paper offices Thursday to discuss the codes department’s stop work order. He expressed ill will toward the Metro Planning Department and said building requirements are simply too expensive to follow.
“We went into planning from day one trying to do this the right way,” Baker said. “And we got the shaft.”
The Bakers’ angst is rooted in the Gallatin Road Specific Plan, a set of design and aesthetic zoning guidelines –– which include required setbacks, materials and uses, for example –– approved in 2007. Celebrated by urban enthusiasts, the Gallatin Road SP is routinely blasted by developers for supposedly thwarting new development along the pawn shop-laden corridor.
By law, animal boarding facilities along Gallatin Avenue must operate at least 200 feet away from residences. The Dog Spot is located 155 feet away from a house.
The Metro Planning Commission voted last winter to exempt The Dog Spot from this requirement, so long as the Bakers agreed to certain conditions.
According to planning department spokesman Craig Owensby, the applicants agreed to add landscaping to the building’s front and rear, oversee various improvements and a “curb cut” along the front entranceway, and locate parking in the back of the building. They were allowed to keep one handicap-parking spot at the front of the building.
By not having to navigate a traditional zone change, Owensby said the arrangement saved the Bakers $1,400.
“They submitted a site plan which was approved by the commission, and they haven’t followed the site plan,” Owensby said.
Lacking a use and occupancy certificate, Andy Baker acknowledged, “We’re illegally operating. There’s not much defense to that.”
But Baker, who characterized the zoning application process as “nasty” and political, said the planning department is demanding requirements that go beyond what they should have to carry out.
“We don’t have the means to do what they want us to do, which is above and beyond what the law requires us to do to open,” Baker said, adding he’s working with newly elected East Nashville council members Anthony Davis, Scott Davis and Peter Westerholm to rectify the situation.
“We just don’t have the money to do all the paving and the parking,” he said.
Baker claims the planning commission has intentionally asked him and his brother to meet conditions they cannot. He also pointed to the Gallatin Road SP clause for existing “nonconforming buildings,” which refers to structures built before the passage of the new zoning law.
“It’s italicized,” Baker said, the zoning document in his hand. “Compliance of the SP is not required for the utilization of existing nonconforming structures, provided there is no expansion. That describes our building.”
He said planners say his structure doesn’t qualify as nonconforming because his building doesn’t meet the 200-foot distant requirement. But he stressed that transforming an adult bookstore to a doggy daycare, in fact, “furthers the goals of the Gallatin Road SP.”
In 20-minute interview, Baker called it “crap” and “illegal” that The Dog Spot would have to comply with standards that new buildings –– not existing ones –– are supposed to follow. He accused the planning department of “trying to make an example out of us.”
Owensby, of the planning department, rejected Baker’s assertion.
“That’s just not true,” Owensby said. “No way is that true.”
Baker says he has more than 100 letters of support from business neighbors and others in support of his operations. He said he has requested a special hearing to discuss The Dog Spot’s issue before the planning commission.