How did the hearing go?
Cutler Bay, resident battle over exotic animals
A code compliance hearing Wednesday in Cutler Bay aims to end a year-long conflict between a resident and the town over exotic animals.
BY HOWARD COHEN
There was Noah and his ark which, some historians say, wound up in Armenia. Today, there's Glenn Fried and his menagerie in Cutler Bay. Some wish it, too, could end up elsewhere.
Fried's furry friends are at the center of a battle between the homeowner and Cutler Bay.
Fried claims to have the right to house exotic animals on his private property and that he is not running a business from his home.
However, town officials say they have just cause to respond to complaints from neighbors over the storage of cages and exotic animals in a residential neighborhood.
The issue could generate even more interest in the wake of a Connecticut woman recently mauled by a neighbor's 14-year-old pet chimpanzee.
Fried contends his animals are safe and well taken care of. There have been no complaints that any of his animals have harmed anyone.
His alligators, for instance, are babies and are returned to a Homestead animal farm when they get too big, he said.
''You probably have bigger lizards,'' he said.
A code compliance hearing has been scheduled for 1 p.m. Wednesday at Cutler Bay's town hall, 10720 Caribbean Blvd., Suite 105.
Both sides said they hope the hearing will end a battle that started in September 2007 when a neighbor complained of smells that came from Fried's property.
There have been several day-long special magistrate hearings over the issue since June.
''Ordinarily, these types of hearings are concluded in an hour or less. It's very unusual to have hearings stretch out over numerous days,'' said Mitch Bierman, an attorney who represents Cutler Bay. “This person seems to have made it a personal cause to argue that there aren't violations rather than bringing his property up to compliance.''
On the length of time this issue has drawn out, Fried can agree.
''It's gone beyond absurd,'' Fried said.
He owns the EnvironMental Connections Group, a nonprofit that provides exotic animals for environmental show-and-tell wildlife presentations to schools, public functions and at parties.
Some of Fried's animals include a kangaroo, snakes, lemurs, ferrets, chinchillas and salamanders.
Fried said he's been unduly cited for electrical violations, improper storage of animals and anything else he says the town can use to get him to abandon his wildlife program.
In November, Fried said he was cited eight times — ''they wallpapered my door and taped them up to cover as much of the door surface as possible'' — for infractions including illegal electrical work, structures built without permits and operating a business without a proper license.
The town sent The Miami Herald a copy of a petition, signed by eight residents in February 2008 and entered in previous hearings, with complaints of cages, odors and rats that have been drawn to the smell and cage droppings.
But Fried said, “They can't see or hear any animals. They say neighbors have been complaining about the smell but [Miami-Dade County] Animal Services testified there was no smell at all. The mayor is saying we have dangerous animals and they smell, but he's never been to our house.''
Fried, 51, also contends that Mayor Paul Vrooman approached him after an animal show at Cutler Ridge Park in the winter of 2007 during the first Founder's Day celebration and questioned him about the business.
'He said, `You shouldn't do that, the zoo does that,' '' Fried said.
“I thought it was an odd comment, but then after doing research I find he's marketing research director for the zoo.''
Vrooman no longer is affiliated with Miami Metrozoo and is now marketing director at the University of Miami's Division of Continuing and International Education.
Vrooman referred comment to the town's attorneys but did say, “We enforce our laws in Cutler Bay. Otherwise, why have them? They are not there for fun. They need to be there.''
Both sides want to put an end to this Wednesday.
Fried said he has complied with requests to properly store the animals and he wants fines he feels are unfair eliminated — they top $4,000.
''We used to do a whole lot more volunteering, but now spend money and time fighting. . . . This has drained us,'' he said.
However, Bierman hopes the hearing officer will rule that the violations were appropriately cited and that the officer “directs the property owner to correct the violations.''
For the cats,
Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue
an Educational Sanctuary home
to more than 100 big cats
12802 Easy Street Tampa, FL 33625
813.493.4564 fax 885.4457
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