Supporters of sanctuary urge passage of zoning bill


September 21, 2004|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Supporters of Frisky's Wildlife and Primate Sanctuary in Woodstock turned out for a Howard County Council hearing last night to support a proposed change in local zoning law to benefit the nonprofit animal shelter.

The more than 50 supporters far outnumbered the three opponents of the bill that could help the embattled shelter by allowing animal sanctuaries as a conditional zoning use - after a public hearing, and if they meet technical standards.

The bill sponsored by Councilman Allan H. Kittleman, a western county Republican, is due for a council vote Oct. 4. If approved, it would require at least a 3-acre site. The measure also includes restrictions to protect neighbors from unpleasant noises, smells and sights.

The shelter and Colleen Layton, its manager and founder, drew praise from county animal control authorities, veterinarians, volunteers and children who love animals, but critics of the bill made several points of their own.

"How would you like to have 31 monkeys living next to you?" asked shelter neighbor Bob Lucido. "This is a safety issue. They belong in a zoo or somewhere else, not in a residential neighborhood."

Scott Stewart of West Friendship said he has no problem with Frisky's but is opposed to the bill because "the bar is just being set too low. It looks like any one of my neighbors could easily bring in a shelter."

Attorney David Carney delivered to each council member a notebook-size packet including information on the long-standing controversy and a letter asking that the bill be tabled until a study can be done. He argued that the bill contradicts recently revised county zoning regulations for all charitable institutions, and noted that some types of monkey can carry dangerous diseases.

But Deborah Baracco, Howard's animal control administrator, told the council that "Colleen's record of safety is better than animal control's." The county regularly uses the shelter when injured wildlife is brought in, she said.

Veterinarian Keith Gold said the shelter's health record is excellent, and that annual testing has found no diseases. Volunteers said Layton keeps the shelter clean and is strict about limiting access to the monkeys.

"This is tough, hard, and often thankless work. To my knowledge they have operated without incident for 12 years," said Ann Selnick, president of Animal Advocates of Howard County, who also favors the bill.

Layton testified that "you cannot hear, see or smell Frisky's," and that there has never been an injury there requiring medical treatment beyond what is available in the first-aid cabinet. Exotic animals are not good pets, she said, but her shelter helps solve a problem by giving such animals a place to live instead of killing them.

Several councilmen expressed sympathy for the shelter, but said there is more at issue.

"I think what you do is tremendous," said Ken Ulman, a west Columbia Democrat who said his concern was public safety. David A. Rakes, an east Columbia Democrat, said, "This is really an issue of location, location, location."

Frisky's, located on Old Frederick Road since 1993, has been embroiled in controversy for several years as some of its neighbors have fought to eliminate the shelter's exotic animals - specifically the monkeys.

The county Planning Board voted in August to recommend approval of Kittleman's bill, but suggested raising the minimum land area for such a shelter to 5 acres - two more acres than the Frisky's site.

The county Board of Appeals ruled two years ago that the monkeys had to go, although Frisky's could stay, but last year the board backed off - leaving the monkeys' fate up to county animal control officials.

"It's not fair that this woman is being worn down by the process - 14 hearings, time, effort, expense and pressure," and more than four years of bureaucratic struggle, Selnick said.

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