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Good Home Sought For Animal Hospital

By Alec MacGillis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 15, 2006

The golden retriever, just neutered, whimpered as his anesthesia wore off. Veterinarian Daniella Schutzengel told an employee to calm him with a shot of Valium.

"Some of the boys wake up hard," she said.

If only other concerns in her practice were so easily addressed. Schutzengel, who owns the Dunn Loring Animal Hospital on Gallows Road, faces fierce opposition to her plan to move from her cramped quarters to a larger space in the White Oak Tower office building on Maple Avenue (Route 123) in Vienna.

Tenants there argue that White Oak is a "professional" building unsuited for a veterinarian.

The dispute has rapidly grown beyond a garden-variety zoning conflict. Dozens of Schutzengel's clients have rallied to her defense; nearly 100 turned out for a recent Planning Commission hearing at Town Hall. They were countered by a half-dozen White Oak tenants who said they would consider a lawsuit if the town approves the clinic's relocation.

The Planning Commission intended to make its recommendation last night. The Board of Zoning Appeals, which will issue the final ruling, is scheduled to hear the case Wednesday.

The intensity of the fight underscores one of the challenges faced by veterinarians in today's suburbs, where animal hospitals are in great demand but high land values, strict zoning regulations and increased building density make it difficult to find a desirable and affordable space that won't spark opposition. The depth of support from Schutzengel's clients is another aspect of such disputes: When it comes to people's feelings for their pets and those who care for them, passions run high.

"You have an attachment with your animals," said Vicki Novak of Vienna, who takes her cats to Schutzengel and carried signs outside Town Hall supporting the move. "It's like your own doctor. The animals I have under her care, it's like she's your physician and she knows your needs."

Schutzengel, 51, has owned the Dunn Loring clinic since 1999 and has practiced in Fairfax County since 1983. She says she has been turned down at four locations since she started looking for a new office several years ago, in anticipation of her lease running out in 2009. She had enough money, but owners decided they didn't want to rent or sell to a vet.

That's why, she said, she was pleasantly surprised when the new owner of White Oak Tower, Trimark Corp., was happy to sign a contract with her for a second-floor unit in the newly renovated building that is being sold as an office condominium. The space isn't cheap, about $1.5 million, but it came with an important bonus: Trimark principal C. Russell Rowzie agreed to lease part of the concrete terrace outside the second-floor office to Schutzengel. She plans to create a garden there, complete with maple and cherry trees, cedar chips and absorbent soils, as a place to walk dogs.

Anticipating complaints, Schutzengel sent letters to tenants introducing herself and held an open house cocktail party in her future office.

The overtures failed. Five of seven owners of the other units sold so far oppose her plan. They say that Rowzie did not have the right to unilaterally change the building's bylaws to allow animals (Rowzie says he does, because he still owns the majority of the units). And they say that he does not have the right to lease part of the terrace to Schutzengel without their permission (Rowzie disagrees again, for the same reason).

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