Sanctuary for monkeys focus of long zoning fight

Hearing slated tonight in 25-month debate

Western Howard

August 29, 2002|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

Recipe for a very long zoning case: Just add monkeys.

Howard County is 25 months into the debate over the legality of Frisky's Wildlife and Primate Sanctuary, a 3.4-acre site in Woodstock that cares for several hundred abandoned or injured animals and - the key sticking point - several dozen primates.

One of the county's most hotly contested rezoning cases, the 507-acre Maple Lawn Farms in Fulton, was wrapped up in less time.

But the end is near: A final round of testimony is expected at a hearing tonight.

Sanctuary opponents - who say they fear monkeys living within swinging distance of them - and its supporters are frustrated by the marathon affair. Postponements have added to the delay.

"This is a case that, had it stayed on the issues of land use, would have been over in an evening," said Bill Hardigg, public relations specialist for Frisky's.

Instead it has been as close to a three-ring circus as Howard County Board of Appeals hearings get.

Dozens of animal lovers have trooped in to show support. Television news crews have made an appearance.

The opponents have an attorney, while Frisky's had as many as three at one point - all working pro bono - as well as Hardigg.

Colleen Layton, who opened Frisky's 32 years ago, moved the sanctuary to Old Frederick Road in 1993.

Complaints that she is operating without proper land-use approval landed her before the Board of Appeals.

Neighbors Richard Wyckoff and Julianne Tuttle argue that the sanctuary is not safe so close to residences because monkeys can spread diseases to humans.

"She really needs to be on a much bigger property," Tuttle said. "That many monkeys don't belong in an area like that."

Tuttle looked into the issue and shared her findings about herpes B, which some monkeys carry and which can be fatal to humans.

But attorneys for Frisky's contend their experts have proved that the animals are well-cared for and don't pose a danger.

Sanctuary supporters argue that the safety concerns are just a smokescreen for developers.

Tim Keane of Trinity Quality Homes, who testified in March that he is planning a subdivision next to the sanctuary and is worried about the monkeys, acknowledged that he had tried to buy her property years ago.

"People encroach on an area, call [the use] inappropriate, get it rezoned and then build more homes," said Hardigg. "That's what's happening here."

The board is considering whether Frisky's can continue as a "charitable and philanthropic institution." Last year, board members voted that "charitable" can only apply to groups doing good works for humans, but they later reversed their ruling and said Frisky's could apply for that designation after all.

Attorney David A. Carney, who represents three neighbors opposed to the sanctuary, said the overriding issue is that keeping monkeys is illegal in Howard County.

Though the sanctuary's attorneys believe Frisky's solved that problem last year when the U.S. Department of Agriculture licensed the sanctuary as an "exhibitor" of animals, Carney said the license shows only that officials found proper protection being given to the animals.

"It has nothing to do with public health and safety," he said.

In November, Layton testified that Howard County Animal Control conducts unannounced inspections periodically.

"I've always well exceeded everybody's expectations," she said.

No monkey has escaped the sanctuary, she told the board, and each new primate is examined by a veterinarian before it is placed with the others.

"Frisky's has never had a communicable disease, ever," she said.

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