New plan to take effect in January
In what could have been an explosive showdown between animal owners and commissioners, was instead, a mild-mannered request for clarification of dog ownership limits and the establishment of an appeals process. Waxhaw held a public hearing Tuesday, Aug. 23 for the Animal Control Ordinance.
“I had expected a little more crowd given the public hearing we have scheduled tonight” Mayor Duane Gardner said as she opened the meeting, “but I’m glad to see you here.”
Gardner’s surprise reflected the contrast with the emotional meeting last April, where residents pummeled the board with fears and concerns with the draft ordinance. When asked about the light attendance to the public hearing, Gardner noted how a committee had been established to work with the residents, giving them an opportunity to have their voices heard and ideas incorporated into the ordinance.
“In the end, I think is indicative of good governance by the leadership.“ Gardner said, “Leadership that listens to the people’s concerns works best.“
The public hearing began with the town manager Mike McLaurin highlighting changes to the draft ordinance, with an emphasis on sections that are still under consideration.
“Several months ago, we had a tragedy in town, at the same time we were implementing our animal control program” McLaurin said, “we presented a rough draft in March of this past year and from the feedback from that meeting, you directed me to work with a committee to revise the ordinance.”
“A lot of what the you [the board] suggested, we’ve ran back through the committee. One of the things that came up in the public’s mind, that the original draft had only two dogs per acre,” McLaurin said, “we’ve gone back to the committee, we looked at seven and adjusted that back to five dogs per acre or portion thereof.”
“Tethering, we originally had that going into effect October 1,” McLaurin said, “but we recommend that you move that to Jan. 1, 2012.”
“I think the part of the ordinance that generated the most questions with section 90.99 [Enforcement], Chaplin [Chaplin Spencer – town attorney] talked about that,” McLaurin said, “and we recommend the term civil fines”.
After McLaurin completed his review, Commissioners asked a number of questions.
“Section 90.06 [Dogs and Cats as Nuisances], [subsection] A and [subsection] 4, where we have ‘actions of a dog or cat constitute a public nuisance’, who determines what is a public nuisance?” Commissioner Erin Kirkpatrick asked, ”is it one time, three times, to me it seems a little vague.”
“All of these will be enforced at the discretion of the animal control officer,” Spencer said, “this is a difficult one, you’d have to have reports from neighbors – testimony, it’s always hard to get that very specific.”
After all the questions from the individual commissioners were answered by either McLaurin or the attorney Spencer, the public were invited to speak.
The first of two speakers was Veronica Kelso. “I did want to thank you very much for your work on this ordinance, we are really grateful, ” Kelso said, “I represent one of a handful of animal rescue people who work in Union County.”
“I appreciate what you said about licensing,” Kelso said, “we do have a problem with animals being massively reproduced, irresponsibly.”
“As you explore the licensing of animals so there is not improper back-yard breeding,” Kelso said, “I think that’s one of the greatest gifts you can give to the community.”
“Concerning the 5 dog limit, sometimes there are special cases, I know of one person who had to move in with her mother, because she was sick . ” said Susan Howie, the second speaker, “They ended up with seven dogs, what do you do in a case like that? There needs to be an appeal [process] for a the 5 dog limit.”
“They worked really hard on this [ordinance],” Howie said, “they’ve done a good job.”
In response to the questions concerning an appeal process, the town attorney noted that all appeals go before the board of adjustments.
“Most of the time the board of adjustments concern is just concerned with zoning issues.” Spencer said.
Commissioner Joyce Blythe offered a suggestion of a special committee to address appeals.
“Let’s go back and look at what options are available for appeals,” McLaurin said, “I don’t know if you want to have a special committee, but you’d probably want a defined process.”
“Let Chaplin and I put our heads together and get some feedback from the committee,” McLaurin said, “and then we will bring it back to the board.”
A final vote on changes to the animal control ordinance will be next month, at the Sept. 13 meeting.