By Stephen Guilfoyle / Editor
Story posted Mar 05, 2007 – 23:23:28 EST
Chester County Council’s meeting was crowded Monday night with residents who support a ban on exotic animals in the county.
Chambers were not as crowded as a meeting two weeks ago, but this time, people were ready to speak.
Three residents spoke against exotic animals and an animal “sanctuary” to be called Tiger World. The woman proposing to build Tiger World in Chester County, along with her father and another supporter, also spoke.
County Council passed second reading of an ordinance banning exotic animals, and this time, had a copy of a written ordinance in front of them as they did so.
The ban was given initial approval at the council’s last meeting, at which just one person spoke, supporting Tiger World.
The ordinance is to be given final approval at a meeting March 21 – that’s two days past the council’s regular second meeting of the month.
County Supervisor Carlisle Roddey rescheduled that meeting, postponing it two days because the county did not run a required legal ad in time to hold a public hearing on the ban. The county must give the public 15 days notice for a public hearing.
Third and final reading on the exotic animal ban will be held at that meeting. But the ban is technically in force now, according to Chester County Attorney Joanie Winters.
South Carolina has a legal doctrine of enforcement of a “pending ordinance.”
Given that the council has already expressed a desire to ban exotic animals, any such request or proposal would be “pended,” until the council’s final hearing of the ordinance.
Councilwoman Mary Guy expressed concern during discussion of the ordinance that someone might try to bring in an exotic animal before final approval is given to the ban, thus allowing the animal to stay under a “grandfather” clause in the ordinance.
Winters explained the pending ordinance doctrine to her, then was asked by Councilman Joe Branham to assure him the county had to take no other action before third reading but the ban was in effect.
Winters assured him the pending ordinance puts all such possible plans on hold.
The ordinance defines exotic animals using language from state law as an animal “that would ordinarily be confined to a zoo, one which would ordinarily not be native to this state or country or to North America, or which, because of its natural disposition, physical or inherent characteristics or size, behavior or propensity (without provocation) to inflict bodily harm or otherwise demonstrate actions that would constitute a danger to any person, domestic livestock, other domestic animals or property.”
The ordinance gives a partial list of exotic animals that includes mountain lions, tigers, lion, bears, panthers, leopards, wolves, rhinoceroses, elephants and other such animals.
The ordinance says no person, firm or corporation shall keep or permit to be kept on their premises any exotic animal as a pet, for display or for exhibition purposes.
Anyone found to have brought an exotic animal into the county has five days once it is discovered to remove it. It includes a $1,000 a day fine for violating the ban.
The ban does not include any exotic animals already held in the county, but forbids those animals from being bred. If such animals breed, the product of any breeding must be removed after being weaned, the ordinance says.
A person cannot just own an exotic animal and bring it into the county before the ban is given final approval. The ordinance allows people with “preexisting ownership of an exotic animal” provided the person holds the “appropriate and current license” at the effective date of the ordinance.
A man in Fort Lawn holds a USDA license and keeps exotic animals at his property. He does not exhibit them to the public, but does use them in film projects like television commercials.
But he would have to register his animals within 30 days of the ordinance passing and pay a $100 annual fee. It would be a violation of the ordinance not to register.
During public comment, Michaela Forbes, a partner of Lea Jaunakais, the Rock Hill woman who wants to build Tiger World, was the first to speak. She said she has seven years of experience with animals and hopes to be animal care director of Tiger World,
She said in her prior experience she worked at an animal sanctuary that was located right next to a dairy farm and there were no escapes and no incidences of injuries.
She said that her prior facility used to “work” with local dairy farmers that had deaths among their herds. They would remove the carcasses and use them to “feed our carnivores.”
She said Jaunakais would exceed the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “stringent” standards for safety, but the USDA itself says its standards are minimum standards.
Jaunakais spoke after Forbes, talking at first about herself. She said she is a scientist, a chemist, a patent holder a biologist with a specialization in animal behavior, as well as a conservationist. She said she is also a businesswoman, running a plant in Rock Hill where she “controls” 35 people and their growth and movement of the business.
She said she is committed to the community with her business and donated equipment to York Tech for a new chemistry lab.
She and Forbes both asked the council to consider regulating exotic animals rather than banning them outright.
Mary Jo Jolley spoke on behalf of north Chester County residents who are opposed to Tiger World and who support the exotic animal ban.
She asked the council to amend it to make sure that only persons who have a permanent residence in Chester County can be eligible for the grandfather clause.
She said her group would have a meeting Wednesday night in Lowrys to further educate people about what they have learned about the issue.
Bill Cronin spoke, saying he is an ex-Marine and knows that mistakes can happen. He told a war story to illustrate the point.
He said there are children and grandchildren in the land around Simple Farm Road where Jaunakais has begun putting a fence up.
“Somebody is going to be in trouble,” he said. “It only takes one.”
A Rock Hill woman who bought 76 acres near the Simple Farm Road site said she and her husband use their land for recreation, possibly for an investment, but they hope to retie there.
She said she would “never feel safe” on her land if the tiger sanctuary were built.
Herbert Lutz said he has some of the best dairy cattle in the world on land facing Tiger World, and if one of Jaunakais’ cats “got out there wouldn’t be much left. Trees fall. People leave the gate open. We don’t need all these out there.”
Lastly, Jaunakais’ father Ivor Jaunakais also spoke on behalf of tiger world. He said he appreciated the council having to balance the fears of the neighbors with the need for his daughter and Forbes to express the “care to be put into this operation.”
He said Tiger World is a business, not a carefree, casual dream of ownership.
He said the county had a lot to gain by remaining open to Tiger World.
Not only will it be an attraction that will draw children down from Charlotte, but he said that the business he owns and his daughter operates in Rock Hill’s Industrial Park, Industrial Test Systems, is growing, and “might” outgrow its current location.
If the county is “friendly and welcomes us and not impedes us,” he said, there might be “much to benefit the community of Chester” in the future.
The animal ban passed 6-0.
Roddey said he had met with Jaunakais for a half hour in his office where she laid out her plans to him. He said he would give her 15 minutes to make her presentation to County Council at the March 21 meeting.
The next step for her, however, is a hearing next week in front of the County’s Zoning Board of Appeals at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 13. She asked the appeals board to give her a special exception to the Residential 2 zoning she has to operate Tiger World as a cultural and entertainment facility.
Zoos are allowed in residential areas in Chester County, if the board approves.