Driggs City Council Upholds Wildlife Rehab Center Permit and Denies Huntsman Appeal.
It was a packed house as the the ladies from the Teton Wildlife Rehabilitation Center successfully defended their permit.
On Tuesday, January 3rd, the Driggs City Council voted 3:1 to uphold the Planning and Zoning Commission’s November 16th decision to grant the Teton Wildlife Rehabilitation Center (TWRC) a Conditional Use Permit. The council did modify two of the conditions to require a landscape plan and prohibit wolves and mountain lions onsite.
Staff from Valley Advocates for Responsible Development were in attendance; our Program and Development Associate, Brendan Conboy provided written and verbal comment to the commission in support of TWRC’s permit. The audience for the hearing was large and mostly full of public support for TWRC.
A Debate Regarding the Timeliness of Fillmore Farms’ Appeal
The meeting opened with a response from TWRC staff Renee Seidler and Lindsay Jones as well as their representative attorney, former County Prosecutor Kathy Spitzer. Spitzer asserted Fillmore Farms’ appeal was procedurally invalid because TWRC’s Conditional Use Permit was submitted before the adoption of the new Land Use Code and therefore subject to all of those rules in place at that time. She said their permit was now being incorrectly appealed under the rules of the new Land Use Code. Under the rules of the old Land Use Code, Fillmore Farms had five days to appeal the permit, but under the new code they would have had 14 days to appeal. Fillmore Farms made their appeal after the five day period.
City Attorney Steven Zollinger said he had advised city staff that the appellant could in fact appeal under the rules of the new Land Use Code, reasoning that the right of an appeal does not attach to the timing of an application, when a decision is appealable is the code going forward.
Appeal Presented by Fillmore Farms (Huntsman Corporation)
Representing Fillmore Farms, Todd Woolstenhulme said the main concerns were location and safety. He wanted to set the record straight about the penned buffalo next to the Huntsman Springs clubhouse bar and restaurant. He asserted that he never promised that buffalo are safe, but that cattle, horses, and dogs can also be unpredictable. He agreed that the wildlife facility was a noteworthy cause, but felt it was located too close to downtown traffic, light, commercial lots, and was an undesirable location. He furthered that it was not good to expose animals to smells of the deli at Broulim’s, and that animals escape from locations like these.
Woolstenhulmne then confirmed to the City Council that Fillmore Farms was pursuing appeal claims #4 (health and safety concerns) and #5 (not a valid veterinary clinic) and that claims #1-3 of their appeal regarding water rights were irrelevant and therefore withdrawn.
Rebuttal by TWRC:
TWRC’s rebuttal therefore focused only on claims #4 and #5.
Regarding claim #4 (health and safety), TWRC staff said: “We don’t see how our facility will pose a health and safety risk. This concern is based on misinformation about wildlife rehab . . . We work under the authority and regulation of Fish & Wildlife and Idaho Fish & Game.” They gave a list of zoos in metropolitan areas, and noted that there are bison at the Huntsman facility. They will work with native species only. Any animal that could be a danger will be anesthetized and the others will be behind inescapable cages: “We couldn’t get liability insurance if we let animals escape.”
As to claim #5: “We are an animal hospital and we fit that description perfectly.” They will not keep a vet on staff, but will have multiple vets on call to help.
In addition to the comment letters submitted, seven people offered comments in support of the permit. Here are some notable statements:
Local veterinarian Summer Winger, who would be working with TWRC wanted to clarify a few things about public safety. She said that any animals coming in would be capable of rehabilitation. “If we habituate these animals, then we cannot release them.”
Former Councilman Ralph Mossman: I’ve seen almost every wild animal in my backyard in downtown Driggs.” He agreed that Fillmore Farms had a fundamental right to appeal, but thought there was “a tremendous amount of audacity in this appeal by Huntsman” considering how their land is still not developed and the city has asked them to better maintain their properties.
Huntsman Manager Dale Prouse offered public comment in opposition to the permit: He asserted that just because the rehab center was heavily regulated does not mean that it is something that needs to be placed in the downtown area. If the city wants to minimize the amount of agriculture in the city impact area, why would Driggs allow this type of exception in the city limits? What type of precedent does that set? He furthered that this use would never be allowed on Main Street.
Fillmore Farms’ response to public comment:
Todd Woolstenhulmne gave a rebuttal on behalf of Fillmore Farms. He felt that the city simply could not ensure safety and the compatibility of surrounding uses. No one would want to buy a commercial development adjacent to the rehab center. He felt that this area west of town should be preserved for growth instead of going in the opposite direction.
City Council Deliberation:
Councilman Mazalewski: “What we are looking at is whether this is a safe and appropriate location for the city of Driggs now and in the future. My opinion is that we see enough animals walking through town as part of life in Driggs. At this time, I don’t see an increased risk from this facility as animals on the loose or at large. Is this an appropriate location long term? I think it is okay at this point in time; we have a 2 year CUP and a 1 year review. I feel we do have some safeguards in place.”
Councilman Kaufmann: “I love the idea. I’m an outdoorsman. The location is my biggest kicker. I would donate to the effort but apparently what has brought this upon us is a donation.”
Councilwoman Christensen: “Wade, the cities that have large zoos, they are in cages, dense locations. What do you think of that?”
Councilman Kaufmann: “I don’t care what they do in LA. This is Driggs, Idaho. I remember when VARD started coming into the valley and talking about urban sprawl. Everything has its place……It’s right in the backyard of Broulim’s and ace hardware. I don’t think it’s an appropriate location.”
Driggs Planning Administrator Ashely Koehler: “The criteria we are looking at is that we have zoning in place and the comprehensive plan in place. We have approved this location. We are trying to restrict high density commercial uses from bleeding outside of the core.”
Councilman Jones expressed further concerns about the appropriateness of the location. Kaufmann followed with his concerns about the facility looking more like a “mini prison” and being generally unsightly: “It’s got to have curb appeal.” City planner Koehler clarified that TWRC had proposed a 10 ft landscape buffer, which the Driggs P&Z had expanded to require a 15ft buffer. She suggested that the council request a more detailed landscape plan.
Mazalewski: “When they apply for building permit the landscaping component comes in.”
Kaufmann: “We should attach that now in the CUP. I’d like to see a landscape plan approved on to address the exterior view angles of the facility.” Mazalewski then made a motion to require a landscape plan provided to the city at the time of business registration. Kaufmann then proposed a further amendment restricting the rehabilitation of wolves and mountain lions onsite.
The amendments passed, and the permit was therefore affirmed by city council with Mazalewski, Christensen, and Kaufmann voting in support and Jones voting in opposition.
What Happens Next:
This may or may not be the final stage. Within 14 days of this decision by City Council, either Fillmore Farms or TWRC can ask for one more “reconsideration” by the city council. After that, either party also has the right to pursue judicial review in Idaho district court. We will keep you posted.
Additional Background Information:
We have posted earlier meeting reports and background information here.
To learn more about the site plans and details of the wildlife rehab center, click here.
The city staff report, application materials, and public comment letters can be reviewed here.