Planning Commission takes up private animal shelter ordinance

Debra W. Buehn
Posted 12/6/17

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Everyone’s heard of rescue dogs and cats, but a rescue zebra? It, and other exotic animals in need of help, could be in the future for Clay County as officials begin looking …

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Planning Commission takes up private animal shelter ordinance

Posted

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Everyone’s heard of rescue dogs and cats, but a rescue zebra? It, and other exotic animals in need of help, could be in the future for Clay County as officials begin looking at private animal shelter zoning regulations.

The subject was on the agenda at the Dec. 5, meeting of the county’s Planning Commission as commissioners took up discussion of adding private animal shelters to the PS-2 (private services) zoning district as a conditional use. The county’s planning staff was approached recently by members of the Animal Rescue Movement Inc., a nonprofit 501(c) 3 corporation that wants to operate as a private animal shelter under PS-2 zoning.

The group currently is located at 5744 Maverick Rd. and has eight kennels and runs with concrete and play yards with hard-grassed surfaces. Right now, there are six dogs, two pigs, three goats, 15-20 cats, three roosters and seven chickens at the location, according to a staff memo. There are no adoptions at the 5.89-acre site and it is not open to the public. Pets are generally taken to PetSmart for adoptions as the Animal Rescue Movement helps animals find their forever homes.

“We were approached by the applicant about the possibility of having privatized animal shelters and rescue-type situations. In the code, we didn’t really refer to any of the private, not-for-profit operations. We deal primarily with a more commercial operation,” said Chad Williams, zoning chief.

The staff put together language for a conditional use within the PS-2 zoning district with general requirements such as operating hours, fencing requirements and size. It also put in a stipulation that applicants would have to submit a site plan and a written narrative “so that you see and the board (of county commissioners) would see operationally what they (the applicant) do so it can be determined whether or not this use is permissible in that location, that it’s compatible with that location,” Williams said.

At Tuesday’s Planning Commission meeting, staff was asking only for the commission to approve the language presented by the staff to add the private animal shelter zoning regulation to the PS-2 district. The issue will still have to go before the Board of County Commissioners for two public hearings and final approval. At that point, the applicant, in this case, the Animal Rescue Movement, can then come back for its location to be rezoned for the proper use, Williams said.

Williams added the applicant is expected to come back in the “January cycle” for rezoning.

While the language the staff originally presented to the Planning Commission dealt with “domesticated” animals such as dogs, cats, horses and some farm animals, Ralph Puckhaber, a planning commission member, questioned extending the regulations to also include exotic types of animals.

“I very much support animal rescue and it sounds like this is just dogs and cats basically. I’d like to see us have the ability to have any animal rescue in Clay County, and if this language doesn’t allow for that, I’d like to propose an amendment to simply ‘animal rescue’,” he said.

According to Williams, rescue and aid for exotic types of animals requires separate state permits.

“I know if you’re going to have exotics you’re going to have certain state permits but I think as a county, my opinion is we should allow them in this county if they have the necessary state permit,” Puckhaber said. “You know, exotic birds and other exotics that need rescuing just as much as cats and dogs do.”

Vice Chair Belinda Johnson questioned what would happen to the exotic animals and the safety of those nearby if the animals got loose or their owner got tired of them and let them go. Safety was important for her, she said.

“It’s a safety issue. If you include all animals, that’s my safety concern; the safety issue of it,” she said.

But Puckhaber said those were not safety groups who let the animals go, they were individuals, and in most cases, it’s better to have more facilities to take them.

“The more rescue facilities you have, the less likely that is to happen because if there are places to take them, people will often do that,” he said.

Williams added that the idea would not be to have just an “exotic animal capture” facility such as one he is familiar with in St. Johns County, but rather to be able to care for an exotic animal if it needs help. That would still require a separate state permit, but it could allow a rescue group dealing with more domesticated animals to deal with exotics, as well.

“This would be, you know, if you found…a zebra and it needed to be rescued, you could bring that to this location and be able to perform the services that you would need to kind of get it back into the system,” Williams said, trying to come up with a way to illustrate such a possible situation.

He added that it would probably largely be up to the applicant as to how far they wanted to go as to what types of animals they would be able to care for.

“I think it’s also kind of applicant-driven because it’s going to be up to the applicant as to whether they feel qualified to handle those types of animals,” he said. “They may be specific into certain types of domesticated animals and that’s all they want to touch where as you may have a veterinarian that can operate on the zebra if need be.”

Puckhaber said he believed it was important to let people who might want to work with helping exotic animals be able to do so, and mentioned B.E.A.K.S in Jacksonville, which works with birds, as an example.

“There has to be people to do that and we should be providing them a space to do it, as long as they do it in a responsible manner, which I think anybody that asks for permits will do,” he said. “You shouldn’t have problems with that. It should be OK.”

In the end, the Planning Commission passed Puckhaber’s motion to accept the staff’s report with the addition that it include exotic animals as well as domestic animals. The issue will next move to the Board of County Commissioners, which will conduct two public hearings because the item deals with a conditional use change.

The BCC public hearings will be at its Dec. 12 meeting, and its Jan. 9, 2018, meeting.

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