Zoning hearing board rules against Catnip Acres

November 27, 2012
Catnip Acres, located at 155 Dark Hollow Road, may have to find a new location after Franklin Township Zoning Board found it to be out of compliance for the residential area it operates within. - Bob Niedbala / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

WAYNESBURG – The Franklin Township Zoning Board ruled Tuesday evening that a business, located at 155 Dark Hollow Road, did not meet the criteria to receive special exceptions or a variance.

Catnip Acres, a nonprofit cat rescue organization, has been in business at the address for several years, but became the subject of a zoning complaint after a veterinarian was brought into the business. The complaint alleged that the change elevated the business to that of an animal hospital operating in the residentially zoned neighborhood.

Zoning board solicitor, Kirk King, laid out guidelines for testimony at the hearing to the more than 100 persons who attended who were both for and against granting the business the exceptions or variance. “It is the zoning board’s task to hear the evidence for special exceptions and variances. It is not here to decide what is the best thing for the community from a practicality standpoint or if the business is properly licensed or not,” King said.

Board chairman Jay Buckhalter reiterated that the issue before the board was strictly one of zoning law.

Carol Pultorac, owner of Catnip Acres, filed the paperwork for the board to declare her business a home occupation. Pultorac and her attorney, Greg Hook, presented testimony, photographs and documents to support her claim that the business was not operating as an animal hospital, which was one of the issues presented to and by the board.

Pultorac maintained that animals did not stay overnight after receiving veterinary services at Catnip Acres and therefore the business did not meet the definition of an animal hospital. She repeatedly stated that the spay and neuter clinics she offers at Catnip Acres did not create excessive traffic on Dark Hollow Road or surrounding streets and that there was ample parking on her property for clients.

The attorneys representing Beth Brumage, who filed the initial complaint, and Dr. Jennifer Behm of Waynesburg Animal Hospital objected to much of the personal testimony given by Pultorac and her supporters on the grounds it was irrelevant to zoning.

Buckhalter read the specifics of the zoning law regarding variances and special exceptions to Pultorac and asked her in each instance if she felt she met the criteria. She answered yes and cited her reasoning to each question asked of her.

Attorney Kelly Stepp, representing Brumage, said two veterinarians, 12 volunteers, a state-of-the-art surgical suite and one vet who was available 24 hours a day elevated the business to the level of an animal hospital. Pultorac still disagreed with the assessment, again stating that she does not “house” or “board” animals at Catnip Acres.

Everything from waste disposal to the safe handling of narcotics was addressed by the board before it rendered a decision.

Buckhalter told Pultorac the board has no control over what is written in the zoning law and that all requirements have to be met for a variance. He added that it carried a heavier burden of proof for the entity seeking it.

“Probably nobody in this room would dispute that good is being done there but we cannot base our decision on how good it is,” Buckhalter said.

After listening to local property owners, many of Pultorac’s clients, volunteers, local veterinarians and attorneys for both sides, the board entered executive session to reach its decision.

A motion to allow the exceptions and variance failed by a vote of 2-3 with board members Sam Boyd and Randy George in favor of granting them.

After denoting how Catnip Acres failed to meet the zoning law criteria for special exceptions and variances, Bultorac made a motion to disallow the variance and exceptions. It passed by a vote of 3-2. George and Boyd cast the dissenting votes.

Pultorac has 30 days to appeal the decision to the Greene County Court of Common Pleas.

Tara Kinsell started her career in journalism with the National Geographic Insider Magazine and the Gaithersburg Gazette Newspaper in Montgomery County, Md. Tara has written and photographed sports, features and news stories for the Herald Standard, Greene County Messenger and Albert Gallatin Weekly. She holds degrees in journalism and graphic design from Waynesburg College, now Waynesburg University, and the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, respectively.

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