Planning panel backs primate sanctuary

Board of Appeals to hear case Sept. 14

`fantastic,' Layton says

July 28, 2000|By Alice Lukens | Alice Lukens,SUN STAFF

Animal lovers went en masse to a Howard County Planning Board meeting yesterday to show their support for Frisky's Wildlife and Primate Sanctuary in Woodstock.

After hearing testimony from about 10 people, mostly supporters, the board voted 4-0 to recommend approval of the sanctuary to the Howard County Board of Appeals as long as Colleen Layton, the manager, installs more landscaping to buffer her home from neighbors.

The Board of Appeals, which will make the final decision on whether the sanctuary may remain in its current location, will hear the case Sept. 14.

Layton said after the hearing that she felt "fantastic" about the vote.

"We'll jump through hoops if they want us to jump through hoops," she said. "It's just for the animals." She said she was eager to get home and get back to work.

An anonymous complaint about the sanctuary prompted the Howard County Department of Planning and Zoning to investigate the facility and determine that Layton needs county permission to continue to operate. The department recommended approval of the sanctuary but stipulated that Layton should add landscaping and privacy fences to protect neighbors.

Although board members urged supporters to talk about land use, rather than animals, their pleas went largely unheard. Frisky's supporters passed out T-shirts and buttons and clapped when one man offered to donate landscaping services to the sanctuary.

They said that Layton provides a much-needed service to the county, providing a shelter to animals displaced from their homes by rapid development. If it weren't for Layton, they said, Howard County officials would be deluged with phone calls and injured animals.

"What I think we do with immigrants, I think Colleen is doing for animals," said Kinza Schuyler, executive director of the Foreign-born Information and Referral Network in Howard County. The group works to protect the rights of thousands of legal and illegal immigrants.

"I live one mile away from Colleen," Schuyler said. "I've taken many animals over to her. She has salved my conscience by being there."

In addition to having 23 monkeys, Layton rehabilitates injured wild animals on her 4-acre property in Woodstock. She says she has more than a hundred animals on her property at any time, many of them in an infirmary in her basement. Seven or eight monkeys live in her home.

Only one person complained about the sanctuary at yesterday's hearing - Steven Ritterspach of Glen Burnie. Ritterspach and his wife were forced to surrender their pet monkey, Jamie, after the monkey bit a woman in a Glen Burnie bar and started a brawl.

Jamie lives at Frisky's, and the Ritterspaches have spent more than $20,000 trying to get the animal back.

Ritterspach believes that Layton buys many of her monkeys, rather than rescuing them. He says she solicits volunteer donations to support her many pet monkeys.

"You assume that everything in the petitioner's request is true," Ritterspach told the Planning Board. "She's in violation of federal, state and local laws."

Ritterspach's allegations, which Layton denies, did not go over well with the board.

"These are all personal issues," said board member Gary Kaufman. "These are not issues of land use."

Sherry Llewellyn, spokeswoman for the Howard County police, said it is illegal to keep monkeys in Howard County for private use. She said she does not know whether Layton's sanctuary fits that description.

Ritterspach said he intends to launch a stronger case against Layton before the Board of Appeals in the fall. Meanwhile, he said, he and other Frisky's opponents did not want to tip their hand yesterday and give Layton's three pro bono lawyers time to prepare a strong defense.

One of those lawyers, Terry A. Berger, has a mini-sanctuary in his Westminster home. He said he lives with a dog and eight formerly stray cats.

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