Over a dozen animal rescuers and shelter supporters gathered in the Levy County Courthouse to voice their opinions on a zoning change that occurred last year that caused code enforcement to place regulations on animal rescues.
Code enforcement has handed out violations and threatened to shut certain shelters down if the animals and sheds remain on the property, including Lexi's Kitty Corner and House of the Happy Cats.
"I am not sure why the witch hunt started," said House of the Happy Cats owner Robin Tjiong. "There were some zoning changes that came up last year. They say there has never been a code for rescues or sanctuaries, making them illegal. I think they don't have a good idea of the horrible impact they will have if they stop the shelters."
Residents asked questions and provided feedback at a workshop on Tuesday over Levy County's proposed land use and zoning plan, which has been in the works since adopting the County Zoning Map on Feb. 8, 2022.
Stacey Hectus, the county’s planning and zoning director, said county staff wants to permit the animal rescues, sanctuaries, breeding places, canine clubs, private dog parks, and daycares in the commercial zoning districts of the county and are labeled as conditional use (CU) and farm-rural residential (F/RR) and agriculture-rural residential (A/RR) if the board agrees to add them to the code.
Shelter and rescue owners walked up to the microphone one by one, giving their understanding of needing to distinguish the difference between someone hoarding animals and someone who has a shelter.
"Just because someone has a bunch of cats or dogs doesn't mean they are a rescue, and you all have no way to determine that, so we understand that need," said Cheri Jenkins, vice president of Williston Animal Group. "But, if you went through right now and shut down everybody doing this, animal services would be so overwhelmed it would be catastrophic."
She said there is a critical need for the county to have legitimate rescues in neighbors' homes in a way that works for everybody.
"The county has to have a relief valve for animal services," she said.
Since the county doesn't have any language regarding animal rescues in the code enforcement, the commission will have to start from scratch.
Chairman Matt Brooks agreed with Jenkins and proposed that the commission reach out to other counties to see what codes and regulations they have for animal rescues and what areas they are permitted in.
Board members discussed back and forth the specific questions and standards they needed to create, including a management plan to cover ramifications of the property itself, the size, and how many animals can fit, to name a few.
"There are so many moving parts to this, and decisions can differ and change depending on the context of what location we are discussing," said Commissioner John Meeks.
Commissioner Rock Meeks suggested the board consider having any official shelter or rescue in Levy County go through an application process the board creates to keep track of which places are legitimate and which are not.
"So, if it comes to us, we can see the zoning, the legitimacy, and anything else we need to know," Brooks said. "If they don't apply and get reported, then it is an immediate zoning issue, and they will be shut down."
Since Tuesday was only a workshop, the commission made no final decision. The county's zoning department will consider everything discussed during the workshop and give an update in April or May.
Thanks for covering this issue. So few news outlets have shown any interest at all.