Owner nixes plans for proposed Woodlands pet business

August 2, 2018

The owner of a proposed new upscale “doggy day care” business called Dogtopia has announced he is not bringing the business to The Woodlands after witnessing what he claims was disrespect shown to other businesses and residents by the township’s Development Standards Committee.

John Ledbetter, who is a franchisee and owner of several proposed Dogtopia locations in Montgomery County, confirmed that his plans to open a new Dogtopia location in The Village of Alden Bridge have been halted and he will not open the business in The Woodlands.

“We’re not going to do anything in The Woodlands. The treatment that was given to residents and businesses, I was shocked,” Ledbetter said. “The way the committee treats other businesses…it is just shocking how they treat businesses. It is very disappointing.”

Walter Lisiewski, chairman of the DSC, disputed Ledbetter’s claims of mistreatment and said the reason why Ledbetter is not bringing his business to the area is simple: dog kennel and boarding type of businesses are not allowed in the shopping center space he had leased.

“What he is saying is not true,” Lisiewski said, noting that the Woodlands Development Co. and officials with the Howard Hughes Corp. — the two entities with authority to designate usage rules on development in the township — had made rules prohibiting a dog-kennel type business in that location.

“Eight residents objected to this,” Lisiewski said of the proposed dog run and business. “The fencing request was beyond the required setback and would encroach on the sidewalk. The residents did not want this. That particular shopping center doesn’t allow dog businesses.”

Lisiewski also stressed that he does not believe the committee nor any of its seven members have previously been, or are ever, disrepectful to anyone who comes before the committee, noting that two members of the township’s Board of Directors — John Anthony Brown and Brian Boniface — are on the committee as well as other respected community members including Robert Heineman and Arthur Bredehoft.

“There are township board members on the committe,” Lisiewski added. “We are not disrespectful.”

Ledbetter said he attended two meetings of the township’s DSC to seek covenant variances for his new business, but after sitting through almost a dozen agenda items and seeing the committee interact with other business owners and residents, he said he decided to cancel opening the new location in the township and focus on other locations throughout Montgomery County. He also said his decision had nothing to do with the location or the rules prohibiting dog businesses.

Two items related to the proposed Dogtopia business were on the agenda for the June 20 meeting of the DSC; one was a variance request for fencing around a proposed small-sized dog run, while the other item was a variance request for a specifically designed Dogtopia sign for the location at 8101 Kuykendahl Road, Suite No. 100. Both items were tabled to a future meeting. On July 5, during another meeting of the DSC, Ledbetter’s request for a variance to construct a small dog run was rejected by the DSC.

“What happened with the space is the landlord did not know that only medical (businesses) can be in that building,” Ledbetter explained. “This is not about our business, it is about the 10 to 12 hearings we witnessed. This was not at all about us. Our decision was based on how they treated other businesses.”

Business owners often frustrated

The issue of tense interactions between owners of other businesses that are either already located in The Woodlands or businesses that are hoping to open in the township have flared in other meetings of the DSC this year.

The owners of the newest location of the popular House of Pies restaurant appeared before the DSC on several occasions, haggling with the committee members over as many as eight to 10 minor and moderately important issues related to their business, such as the proper color paint of the outer walls, location of an outdoor patio as well as details on signs and logos the owners use.

Shukri Ganim, who is one of the co-owners of the House of Pies, was present at two DSC meetings where he sought variances for his signature House of Pies logo and other design ideas for the new eatery. Many of the variances requested were rejected by the DSC, something Ganim said he didn’t fully agree with but added that he understood as a requirement to opening in The Woodlands, where standards of design are stricter than in Houston.

The DSC has grappled with business owner frustration before, notably when the owner of a gift shop called Tumbleweeds & Notions was given a notice of covenant violation involving her business sign, which was located in small shopping center on Research Forest Drive. The woman pleaded with DSC members to allow her a variance, which was eventually rejected, telling the committee that her landlord had given her incorrect information about what signage was allowed.

Ledbetter, who has lived in The Woodlands for about 20 years, said he had already signed a lease for the space to house the new Dogtopia, which he described as a “very high end” dog day care with dog-sitting, grooming, boarding and other services. Now, since he is withdrawing the business from the township, Ledbetter said he is working with the building owner to get out of his lease agreement.

Gordy Bunch, chairman of the township’s Board of Directors, said he was not aware Ledbetter had decided against opening the dog day care. Bunch also said he is not involved in the DSC’s decisions and in general is not aware of any of the issues Ledbetter had raised.

“The business (Dogtopia) sounds like one our residents would use as we have many pet owning residents that would choose to use his services,” Bunch said.

While Ledbetter would not describe specific interactions he viewed as disrespectful, he did say the requirement to have a committee review minute details such as vinyl lettering on a business door that may be 1 inch bigger than allowed was frustrating to contemplate as a business owner.

“I don’t want a business that has to get every tiny thing approved by a committee,” Ledbetter added.

As for his advice to the township for rectifying what he views as disrespect, Ledbetter said he believes residents and business owners should make their own determinations on what may need to be changed in regard to how the DSC operates.

“I would say go to a (DSC) meeting and see about how they treat people and draw your own conclusions,” Ledbetter said. “This is more so about how they treat people, it is shocking. Treat people in the community with respect.”

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