Board grants a reprieve to animal haven

Frisky's may seek zoning as charity, appeals panel says

Reversal of January ruling

Some neighbors oppose housing monkeys at facility

April 13, 2001|By Alec MacGillis | Alec MacGillis,SUN STAFF

Reversing its ruling of three months ago, the Howard County Board of Appeals ruled last night that Frisky's Wildlife Sanctuary in Woodstock can apply for zoning approval as a charitable operation.

The unanimous reversal offers a reprieve for Frisky's owner Colleen Layton, who has cared for wounded and homeless pets and wildlife, in addition to about two dozen monkeys, at her home on Old Frederick Road since 1994. In January, the board ruled that Frisky's could not apply for approval as a charitable operation, saying that the category applied only to places that served people, not animals.

The January ruling left Frisky's in a bind, because the county last year told Frisky's it would need zoning approval to continue operating and recommended "charitable institutions" as the only category under which it could apply.

A relieved Layton cheered last night's ruling, which was witnessed by several local television crews and about 80 Frisky's backers, who brought placards and stuffed monkeys to show their support.

"We are very happy," said Layton. "We haven't won the war, but we won the battle."

Zoning approval for Frisky's is far from assured. A lawyer representing neighbors opposed to the facility argues that Frisky's should not get county approval unless it gives up the monkeys, which the lawyer says are banned under Howard's prohibition of "wild and exotic animals."

Lawyers volunteering for Frisky's say they are working with county officials to see if the law can be amended to allow monkeys.

The board did not consider the issue of monkeys last night, focusing instead on whether Frisky's could apply as a charity. Frisky's lawyer Sherman Robinson argued that the Internal Revenue Service and the state recognized Frisky's as a charity in granting it tax-exempt status.

"Nowhere in the zoning regulations have we found anything restricting charitable institutions to ones that benefit humans only," Robinson said. "The community benefit is obvious. I know of no instance when an animal walked into a wildlife sanctuary or veterinarian's office and requested treatment. It's generally a human who brings it in."

Legality of primates

Lawyer David A. Carney, representing the opposition, agreed that Frisky's should be able to apply as a charity. The fact remained, he said, that monkeys aren't legal in Howard County.

"However well-intentioned, [Layton] is explicitly precluded by law from continuing to ... [take care of] the primates," he said.

The sanctuary came under scrutiny in 1999, when an Anne Arundel County couple was forced to give up their monkey to Layton after it went on a rampage in a Glen Burnie bar. Last year, the couple unsuccessfully tried to get the monkey back and, in the process, made complaints about Frisky's.

Hearing set for July 10

Board Chairman Robert C. Sharps, the driving force behind the January ruling, conceded that "maybe in the broad sense" charities could be seen as including animal sanctuaries.

As for the charge of illegal monkeys, he said, he would have to wait and hear the evidence at the July 10 hearing.

"But we have the authority to set conditions that [approval] would be based only on legal use," he said.

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