Tiger World causing county to look at zoning, animal control issues
Story posted Feb 19, 2007 – 17:13:20 EST
By Stephen Guilfoyle
Chester County will be looking at possibly changing its zoning procedure and putting in an exotic animal ban as a result of a Rock Hill’ woman’s plan to put a tiger sanctuary in the county.
Rock Hill businesswoman Lea Jaunakais, who wants to build what she has called a wildlife sanctuary and education center on more than 40 acres off Simple Farm Road in north Chester, had originally applied to have her property rezoned from Residential 2 to Agricultural classification in order to operate her park.
The only use in the agriculture classification that might match what Jaunakais has said she wants to do at "Tiger World" is a use called "animal production."
That includes fattening animals for meat production but also "growing" animals, ostensibly for resale.
Jaunakais said her center is intended to raise awareness about threatened and endangered species. But she has said she breeds her animals. She told a crowd in Chester County last week that she does "limited" breeding.
Jaunakais has withdrawn her original request to have her land rezoned as agricultural. Now she is requesting a "special exception" to have her land remain R-2, but be allowed to offer "cultural community facilities" designation.
Chester County‘s zoning code allows "cultural and community facilities, arts and sports" as a special exception to several different classifications.
The special exception procedure doesn’t change the zoning, but allows a property owner a few extra uses, if a special board signs off on the request.
The county’s four residential classifications allow most of the arts and entertainment uses, but forbids "7112, Spectator Sports," "7113 Promoters of Performing Arts, Sports, and Similar Events" and "71399," which is called "All other" entertainment options but a breakdown list basically establishes it as gambling and casino type operations.
General commercial classification allows every single arts and entertainment use.
Arts and entertainment uses include such things as animal exhibits like zoos and wildlife parks, as well as botanical gardens.
As The News & Reporter detailed in coverage in December and January of rezoning that some said would allow a railroad transfer terminal in the county’s industrial corridor, the county’s zoning code sets up classifications that correspond to the North American Industry Classification System,. The U.S. Census Bureau maintains a database with those classifications.
Arts and culture come under a numerical tag 71.
The county’s General Commercial classification allows every use listed under the NAICS code 71, from dance companies to the zoos/wildlife park.
The county Planning Office said the special exception allowing Tiger World to operate as a cultural facility better fits what Jaunakais intends to do at the facility.
The county’s Zoning Board of Appeals would hear from Jaunakais and decide whether to grant her the special exception. It can also put in whatever conditions it requires to guarantee public safety or health.
The special exception procedure under which she is now proceeding has at least two county councilmen concerned.
If Jaunakais had gone the rezoning route, the Planning Commission would have taken one vote, and, despite what the commission voted, County Council would then have gotten a chance to uphold or deny the commission’s action. The council would actually have to consider the commission’s decision three times before the issue would be settled.
But the special exception route takes the issue before the county Zoning Board of Appeals. The board votes up or down and its decision is the last word at the county level on the matter.
The board will meet March 13 to hear Jaunakais’ request.
Councilmen Archie Lucas and Joe Branham both said Friday they have problems with the zoning board’s unilateral ability to decide.
County Council appoints the members of the Zoning Board of Appeals.
"Basically you got an appointed board telling the governing board what to do," Lucas said. "I don’t think that’s right."
Branham said almost the exact same thing.
Lucas said he doesn’t know when the county installed the Zoning Board of Appeals with that power. He had previously served on the council before, and said he hoped it wasn’t during his prior term.
Branham also said he wasn’t aware the Zoning Board of Appeals had the final say so.
Councilman Alex Oliphant did mention that during discussion in January of another zoning issue – the rezoning request some said was for CSX to build an intermodal transfer terminal.
Councilman Brad Jordan made a motion to amend the county’s zoning code so that any request for an intermodal yard would be considered a special exception to the Industrial-1 classification.
Jordan said ID-1 is considered light industrial, but an intermodal yard, with hundreds of trucks transferring container boxes to and from trains, is obviously a heavy industrial facility.
Oliphant said at that meetings that special exceptions go to the Zoning Board of Appeals, and County Council does not get to review those decisions. Jordan pressed on with his motion, which passed.
Branham was at the meeting, the council’s first business meeting of 2007.
He said he missed that comment.
"I didn’t hear that time, but I heard it this time," he said.
Both Lucas and Branham said they are going to question that procedure and find out the reasoning behind it. They said they might suggest changing it if they do not like the answers they get.
But both also said it appeared the council was being bypassed in this instance, and that also is something they want to look into.
The Zoning Board of Appeals is not the only thing some on the council are considering changing.
As The N&R reported last week, County Council has discussion of "exotic animals" on its agenda for its meeting Monday. County Supervisor Carlisle Roddey has said an ordinance to ban exotic or dangerous animals may come up for first reading.
Oliphant suggested the discussion be put on the agenda, Roddey said.
A former Riverbanks Zoo official told The N&R recently that South Carolina is relatively "wide open" to people who want to own or exhibit wild animals. There is no statewide regulation banning or controlling the practice, though state law provides an exception to allow public parks and zoos to bypass the permit procedure for transporting wild animals.
Many counties have passed their own ordinances either banning or strictly regulating exotic animal ownership.
Jaunakais said she wanted to keep her animals in York County, but that county has an ordinance banning exotic animals.
Lancaster County has banned them as well, as has Fairfield County, according to opponents. Lexington County outside Columbia has a ban, as does the town of Mount Pleasant. Beaufort County has a ban as well, according to some opponents of the tiger facility here.
Chester County has received copies of the ordinances from Lexington, Lancaster counties and Mount Pleasant and Myrtle Beach to consider at Monday night’s council meeting.
Lexington County‘s ordinance is just one page. It lists several types of "exotic animals" from lions and tigers and other big cats, to reptiles, bears, elephants and gorillas.
The ordinance makes it unlawful to "keep, maintain or have" such animals in a person’s "possession or control within the unincorporated areas of Lexington County."
The ordinance exempts Riverbanks Zoo, which is partly in the county, and circuses that get county approval.
The ordinance says a penalty may be issued equal to the maximum penalty a magistrate’s court can impose. The county’s Animal Services "may take immediate possession of an exotic animal and transfer the exotic animal to a rescue group outside Lexington County," it says.
Lancaster County has an ordinance that bans dangerous animals and exotic animals. mountain lions, tigers lions bears and other big cats are listed under "exotic animals."
Lancaster County‘s ordinance bans exotic animals, saying "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."
But the same section also says, "This section shall not be construed as to apply to zoological parks, performing animal exhibitions or circuses."
Animals in the county on June 5, 1995 were also exempted from the ordinance.
That ordinance gives Lancaster County animal control officers the authority to enter any premises were animals are kept in cages, or on open lands, pastures and fields.
It requires that people comply with U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations on the construction of cages, housing and care of such animals.
Lancaster County‘s ordinance sets an annual fee of $100 per location for such animals. It makes a reference to the county maintaining records of the animals in the county on June 6, 1995.
It forbids owners of exotic animals that were kept in the county before the ordinance from keeping any animals born to their exotic animals. Any animals born on the grounds need to be transported outside the county after "normal weaning period as determined by animal control."
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