Carol Pultorak has learned the hard way that good intentions are not enough.
Last week, Greene County President Judge William Nalitz dismissed an appeal filed by Pultorak and her husband, Richard, the owners of Catnip Acres, who had sought to reverse a November decision by the Franklin Township Zoning Hearing Board denying them a variance or special exception to operate their business in a residential area.
The Pultoraks have operated a nonprofit animal rescue operation and spay and neuter clinic at the property for several years. The area is zoned R-1 for residential use. But a complaint filed in October alleged the property was being used for an animal hospital, which is not a permitted use in an area designated for residential, single-family homes.
We have no doubt the Pultoraks had good intentions when they founded Catnip Acres more than a decade ago.
The problem, however, is the business expanded to a point where it became, in the eyes of some nearby residents and Franklin Township officials, a full-service animal clinic.
If in fact that is what Catnip Acres became, the business needed to be located in a district zoned for commercial or agricultural use. That being said, we have been impressed with the work of Pultorak and her staff. Nearly 10,000 cats have been spayed or neutered by them, many of them feral, and once they have been “fixed,” they have been released back into the community to be members of non-breeding, vermin control colonies.
In his memorandum opinion, Nalitz even cited Pultorak’s work to care for unwanted and feral cats and the low cost she charged for the services.
“There can be no doubt that (Pultorak) does good work and she deserves unequivocal praise for her efforts,” Nalitz wrote. “… No doubt a significant reason for Catnip Acres’ continued operation is (Pultorak’s) subsidy of it.”
And this brings us back to our original premise that good intentions are not enough.
Nalitz concluded that the only issue for the zoning hearing board and for the court is whether the business should continue in an R-1 District. “If the generosity and good works of the property owner trumped the zoning ordinance, there would not be much point in having a zoning ordinance,” Nalitz wrote.
Looking at the testimony offered before the zoning hearing board, we must agree that the Pultoraks had no basis under the zoning ordinance for either a variance or special exception.
Ample evidence was presented that a veterinarian treats cats and dogs at Catnip Acres and that these animals are housed so long as their treatment requires. The ordinance defines an animal hospital as a building used by a veterinarian for the treatment, housing and boarding of small domestic animals.
There is no question that Catnip Acres provides an invaluable service, but we agree that, despite her good intentions, Pultorak simply must abide by zoning laws.
We were encouraged to hear her say she is looking at several other locations to move her operations, including one nearby that is zoned for agricultural use.
Let’s hope she proceeds down that path quickly because the feral cat population has little understanding of zoning ordinances.