Wildlife facility loses appeals board ruling

Frisky's can't operate as charitable effort, county panel decides

January 18, 2001|By Alec MacGillis | Alec MacGillis,SUN STAFF

Caring for two dozen monkeys and more than 100 other animals might be a kindly thing to do, but it cannot be considered a charitable endeavor, Howard County officials ruled this week in a setback for a much-contested wildlife sanctuary in Woodstock.

The Howard County Board of Appeals on Tuesday night dismissed Frisky's Wildlife and Primate Sanctuary's application for permission to continue operating the haven for homeless or wounded animals. Because the sanctuary serves exotic animals, not humans, it cannot qualify as a "charitable and philanthropic institution," the zoning category under which owner Colleen Layton filed for approval, the board decided."[The] wildlife and primate sanctuary and wildlife rehabilitation center ... may tend in a sense to promote the public welfare, but it cannot be considered a `charitable and philanthropic use' unless the [board] extends the meaning of these words beyond their permissible limits," the panel ruled in a 3-1 vote.

The ruling is the latest turn in a case that for the past year has offered a bizarre variation on the county's conventional zoning fare.

Troubles started for the sanctuary in 1999 when an Anne Arundel couple who turned their monkey, Jamie, over to Layton after it went on a rampage in a Glen Burnie bar accused Layton of running a shoddy facility.

After investigating the sanctuary, the Howard Planning and Zoning Department determined that Layton needed to apply for county approval to continue operating the haven, which has been in existence since 1970. In addition to the monkeys, it boasts more than 100 raccoons, goats, geese, ducks, opossums, fox and llamas on 4 acres off Old Frederick Road.

With the help of several animal-loving lawyers, Layton appeared before the county in July and was due for another hearing in March.

Matters seemed to be going well for her: The planning department had recommended approval of the sanctuary, as long as Layton added landscaping and fences to shield neighbors.

But because the Board of Appeals has ruled she cannot qualify as a charitable operation, county officials said, Layton's chances for staying open have narrowed.

There are no zoning categories other than "charitable institutions" under which the sanctuary could conceivably apply for approval, county planner Robert Lalush said.

He said Layton's options are to appeal the board's ruling in court or petition for the creation of a new zoning exception covering wildlife sanctuaries.

"If they want to continue operating on the property, they have to do something to have it approved because it's not a permitted use," Lalush said.

Lawyer David Carney, who is representing neighbors opposed to the sanctuary, agreed yesterday that the ruling bodes poorly for Frisky's.

In a memorandum filed in November, Carney had argued that keeping exotic wildlife such as monkeys was clearly forbidden by county laws, and that Layton would have to be a veterinarian to qualify her sanctuary as an animal hospital.

"What [Layton] needs to do is go to another county where monkeys are permitted," Carney said.

Notified of the board's action yesterday, Layton showed no sign of giving up her fight to stay put in Woodstock.

She said she is still baffled about why after 30 years of operating the sanctuary, she is being threatened with regulations she never knew existed.

"For anyone to cause a problem after years of not having a problem is phenomenal," she said. "But we can't quit - what would happen to the animals?"

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