The North Branch City Council had an emotional tug-o-war to deal with during their Dec. 8 meeting, having to choose between their love of animals with enforcing the terms of a conditional use permit (CUP) issued over twenty years ago. In the end, the council’s duty to enforce their laws, plus acting upon several complaints from neighbors, won the war.
At issue was a CUP for a kennel license for the property located at 4972 Shady Lane, which was and is still currently owned by Harry Seidenkranz. According to GIS Planning Specialist Nathan Sondrol, at the time the of the CUP approval, Seidenkranz owned 20 cats and five dogs that were all housed on the property.
One of the unique terms of the CUP was that Seidenkranz was allowed to keep all of those animals until their death, however he wasn’t allowed to add any additional animals, nor replace the ones that did die until he reached a maximum of five dogs and five cats. According to Sondrol, however, the opposite has happened, with the clowder growing to an estimated 30 or more cats.
Sondrol said an initial inspection was precipitated by numerous complaints about the smell of cat urine and feces permeating from the site. During the initial inspection, staff did detect a substantial smell, plus the large number of cats, most of which were housed in makeshift kennels. Further inspections revealed minimal attempts to eliminate the odor by spreading lime, but there still was an odor, and Seidenkranz admitted that while he had contacted a few area shelters, no cats had been removed, at which time the process for revoking the CUP was initialized.
Sondrol told the council staff had been working with Seidenkranz to relocate the cats, however since most of them were considered feral, most shelters that were contacted would only take them in to be euthanized, which was unacceptable to Seidenkranz.
While addressing the council, Seidenkranz argued the CUP shouldn’t be revoked because despite the large numbers, all of the cats are well taken care of by himself and his wife.
“I have plenty of time to take care of my animals,” said the 89-year-old Seidenkranz. “And nobody’s gonna tell me different.
“They are first, I am second. I fed them tonight and it took me until 6:30, then I had my supper,” Seidenkranz added. “My wife washes their blankets every week. They get clean blankets like we get clean sheets. I buy all their canned foods, over $200 out of my pocket. I don’t go on vacation because I don’t have nobody to take care of them. They maybe wouldn’t take care of them like I want it done.”
Seidenkranz told the council he hasn’t intentionally taken in any additional cats, but the numbers have grown due to people abandoning cats at his property knowing he will take care of them. He also conceded not all of the cats are fixed, so some of them have had litters of kittens too.
Size needs to be reduced
City attorney Chris Hood noted to the council that whether they revoke the CUP or not, Seidenkranz would have to reduce the number of cats on the property in the near future, since he is in violation of six of the eight conditions of the original CUP, including not taking in any additional cats. Hood told the council the only difference between revoking the CUP and letting it stand is Seidenkranz would be able to keep five cats under the CUP, where without the CUP, he would be limited to three cats.
Sympathy, but rules are rules
While the council agreed the cats look well taken care of, and professed their love of animals, the situation has gotten out of hand.
“I know you take care of the cats, and I see the pictures of them and they look healthy,” Mayor Jim Swenson said. “I grew up on a dairy farm and sometimes you had thirty cats, but you love them and take care of them. But that’s out on a farm and we have ordinances we have to live by. You can only have a certain number of cats or dogs, and that’s just the way it is.”
“I’m not suggesting you aren’t caring for these animals,” Council Member Kelly Neider said. “However what happened 21 years ago has changed. So we need to make some changes here. Unfortunately, not everyone is going to come out of this happy. I’m an animal lover, so it breaks my heart to even possibly think these kitties would go someplace and be euthanized. But the reality is our city has rules and regulations and we are elected to uphold them.”
Ultimately, the council approved revoking the CUP by a 3-2 vote, with Council Member Kathy Blomquist and Council Member Joel McPherson voting nay.
“If we don’t revoke it (the CUP) and do a nuisance complaint, then I think Mr. Seidenkranz would get the help he needs,” Blomquist said. “I am hearing it’s not necessarily the cats that he has taken in. These are all wild cats. He has tried to give them a life besides being wild.”
Improved conditions with terry’s disposal
Also under the category of CUPs, the council unanimously approved amending Terry’s Disposal’s CUP to state the city would be okay with the business restarting bringing recyclable materials directly to their site to be sorted for proper disposal at a recycling center as a means of generating additional income.
According to City Administrator Renae Fry, over the summer and into the fall, Terry’s has made significant strides in bringing the site into compliance with their CUP, including bringing in a business partner. While it’s the county that issues recycling licenses, the county stated they would be willing to reissue one if the city is agreeable to it.
Fry said this stipulation would give the business the means to fully clean up the site, which the owners said would take place by the end of September, 2021.
Last meeting of 2020
Before calling for adjournment, it was noted this was the last council meeting of 2020. Although the second meeting of the month would normally be held on Dec. 22, Fry stated she created an extra-long agenda for the Dec. 8 meeting in order to avoid having to have the second meeting just a couple days before Christmas. She did add that if something of urgency came up, she would contact the council to set up a special meeting.