110 W. New York Ave.
DeLand, FL 32720
By Jen Horton
posted Nov 30, 2012 - 10:38:56am
Animal Rescue Konsortium founder Maggi Hall said she is being harassed by the City of DeLand, with fire inspections, building inspections, and energetic enforcement of zoning laws.
Hall’s animal-rescue organization, commonly known as ARK, came into the spotlight Nov. 8 after the DeLand Police Department, responding to complaints, inspected the ARK shelter at 441 S. Woodland Blvd. and seized 135 animals.
At a court hearing Nov. 19, the City of DeLand and ARK reached an agreement that gave the city custody of the animals. In turn, the city gave the dogs and cats to the foster homes, shelters and facilities that had taken them in.
Since that date, the city has not allowed ARK to shelter animals at the restored historic home on South Woodland Boulevard.
Hall said, now, she feels like she’s being targeted by the city.
“Code enforcement — Matt Adair and a police officer — came two days in a row, and then came yesterday,” Hall said. “I just got a registered letter from the fire marshal with three pages of violations.”
While the police were moving animals out of the ARK shelter, no employees were allowed in the building. Hall said some of the fire-code violations wouldn’t have occurred without the police interference.
“They listed on the report an unminded electric blanket in a laundry basket. What they didn’t mention is, it was surrounding a cage with a baby kitten. That was the kitten that died after it left us. It would not have died with us,” Hall said. “They listed an unminded scented candleholder in Jennifer [Johnson’s] room. She was not allowed to be in there to turn it off.”
Hall has allowed Jennifer Johnson to live at the shelter, in exchange for Johnson’s care of the animals.
“That will cost $15,000, to install sprinkler systems,” Hall said. “Jennifer is being made homeless by the City of DeLand. We’re trying to find a home for her right now.”
Hall is compiling facts and figures about the ARK operation. She invites members of the public to stop by her house and look at it, once it’s finished.
“ARK is an open book,” she said.
DeLand businessman Todd Carpenter is organizing fundraisers at two DeLand businesses to raise money for ARK. He said the nonprofit agency merely reflected a larger community problem, but didn’t create that problem.
“This situation is a reflection on our community, not a reflection on Maggi,” Carpenter said. “When you have a facility that is overcrowded with a no-kill, no-turning-away policy, what that says is there are too many animals in the community.”
ARK’s commitment to not allowing animals to be killed led to the number housed in the shelter, Carpenter said.
“Overcrowding is definitely a concern,” he said. “But the DeLand police who raided ARK dropped off animals there, too. That’s a lot of hypocrisy.”
City officials said they aren’t targeting ARK.
DeLand Deputy Fire Chief Ron Snowberger said fire inspections are done either annually, or as needed.
“There are an awful lot of businesses in the city, and typically we handle them as they come up on an annual schedule,” Snowberger said.
In the case of ARK, the fire inspector was called in because of the seizure.
“When the police were on the scene, they noticed open wiring and called us out, just to look over the facility,” Snowberger said.
When fire-code violations are found, the property owner is given time to correct the situation. Follow-up inspections confirm the problems have been fixed.
DeLand fire-safety inspector Gillian Stemmerman said the last time ARK’s building was inspected was in 2010. That, she said is normal.
The sprinkler requirement, Stemmerman said, is because using a building as a residence as well as a business brings different state standards into play.
“Once you do that, change the use, it changes everything,” Stemmerman said. “If nobody lives there, it falls under the parameters listed under the business tax receipt for that business.”
She added, “It would be that way for anyone.”
DeLand Chief Building Official Matt Adair talked about the code-enforcement complaints that prompted the city to take action at the ARK shelter.
“If we receive a complaint from anyone, we must make a site visit,” Adair said.
Adair said he received a complaint that there were animals being taken into the shelter on Nov. 20. He visited the shelter that day and found two circus dogs there that had been released to ARK for adoption.
Adair gave ARK a warning that the shelter was not an approved use for the building, and that rescued animals could not be boarded on the site.
As is standard procedure, Adair said, he returned the next day. The circus dogs were gone.
“We have to follow up to make sure things are taken care of,” Adair said.
He said he visited 441 S. Woodland Blvd. again after another complaint.
“Someone called to say there were animals there,” he said. “But those were the personal animals of the people who live there, and they were allowed.”
Adair saw no evidence of animals being sheltered at ARK, and said the staff was forthcoming in showing him the facility, he said.
DeLand City Attorney Darren Elkind addressed the use of the ARK building.
“When it was originally started, if I recall, it was supposed to be an animal hospital. I believe it took money from the Audubon Society,” he said.
The original idea was to have an extension of the neighboring veterinary clinic, where non-domestic animals could be helped, he said, but over time the mission changed to a no-kill shelter.
Elkind said because the transformation into an animal shelter happened gradually, the property’s zoning wasn’t questioned.
Once the matter was brought to light, though, Elkind said, the city had an obligation to enforce its own codes.
“The city is enforcing the laws,” he said. “We don’t have the luxury of choosing when to enforce it.”
The building at 441 S. Woodland Blvd. does not have a zoning special exception to operate as an animal shelter, but it does have a current business license.
Hall confirmed that ARK, the business, is not shut down.
ARK is pairing released animals with foster homes, and working hard to get them adopted. The animals are no longer being brought to, or housed in, the South Woodland Boulevard house.
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