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Court rules exotic animal ordinance constitutional

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By MARK SCOHIER

news2@chieflandcitizen.com

A Levy County criminal court ruled in a Tuesday hearing that the county’s ordinance on keeping exotic animals does not violate Florida’s Constitution.

The issue of the ordinance potentially being unconstitutional was brought before Circuit 8 Judge James T. Browning by Defense Attorney Moises Kaba III, who was representing Brian R. Davis, of Morriston, on a citation issued by county code enforcement with regard to class 1 exotic animals being kept on his property.

Kaba told Browning that Davis, along with Davis’ wife, Dr. Suzanne Billiar, were, at the time the animals were moved onto the property in 2009, in compliance with rules established by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the organization that issued the permit to Davis and Billiar.

The FWC has explicit power, Kaba said, to keep the county from making rules regarding the keeping of wildlife.  Kaba also said the ordinance is vague, lacking definitions for both exotic and dangerous animals, and is being selectively applied.

But Browning did not agree. “The selective enforcement argument...I don’t find to have merit,” Browning told Kaba.

In February, the Levy County Planning and Zoning Commission made a recommendation to deny Davis and Billiar a special exception permit based on the findings of county code enforcement officers. The permit would have allowed Davis and Billiar to keep the animlas, which include chimpanzees, a bear and a tiger.

The issue of the animals being kept by Davis and Billiar was first brought to light by residents who complained about the animals at a 2009 county commission meeting.  Neighbors of Davis and Billiar said the animals were loud and that there was concern that some might escape.

At that time, the county had already been complaining to FWC about compliance with county zoning regulations not being enforced by the FWC when it issues permits.

The county’s zoning ordinance, approved several years ago after the commission heard citizens’ concerns about exotic animals being kept in Otter Creek, requires exotic and dangerous animals to be located at least 1/4 mile from residential areas.

Davis is scheduled for a hearing on Jan. 11 to address the issue of his citation and the fact that he never received a special exception permit from the county to keep class 1 animals.  Davis was previously issued two other citations related to the matter, but both were uncontested.