May 3, 2005 A zoning hearing of the Senate Committee of the Whole turned into a discussion on animal cruelty legislation Tuesday.
The session was called to take testimony on six zoning requests, including a zoning request from the Humane Society for an animal care campus in Estate Donoe.
However, during testimony from the Humane Society, senators turned the focus to animal cruelty, and in particular new legislation sent down from Gov. Charles W. Turnbull on Tuesday afternoon that amends the Anti-Animal Cruelty Bill he vetoed, which was sponsored by Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg. (See "Turnbull Submits Revised Animal Cruelty Bill.")
Donastorg said "it's quite ironic" that Turnbull would send his legislation on the same day that the Humane Society had to appear before the Senate for a zoning request. He added that Turnbull should have sent legislation against animal cruelty six years ago.
Donastorg told his colleagues to ignore the governor's legislation, saying it was weak and reduced the penalties for animal cruelty. He urged them to vote for an override of Turnbull's February veto of his legislation. The Senate will vote on the matter during full session Wednesday.
"I'm not going to water the bill down until it doesn't have any teeth," said Donastorg, who has been pushing for anti-animal cruelty legislation for several years now.
"My colleagues have already begun crafting excuses for why they are not going to support this override," Donastorg said. "We need to do the right thing."
Sen. Craig Barshinger said he and other members of the Senate minority had sat with Turnbull earlier Tuesday and hashed out the new anti-animal cruelty bill. Barshinger said the territory's problem is one of enforcement, and bills are more apt to be enforced when everyone is in support of the bill.
Barshinger said he agreed with the governor that some penalties in Donastorg's legislation were "unduly harsh," and parts of the bill needed clarity. He referred to sections of the bill that defined as animal neglect instances when pet owners left their animals without food for more than 12 hours.
"I don't see them as being harsh," Humane Society President Joe Aubain said of the penalties in Donastorg's bill. "I see them as being a deterrent."
Aubain said the bill "falls within the middle range" of similar bills in the states.
Sen. Celestino A. White Sr. told Aubain the Humane Society would definitely need the animal care campus if Turnbull's bill is passed because animals would keep being abused.
The Humane Society is seeking a rezoning of two parcels of land from R-1 (residential low density) to C (commercial). The property, which was donated to the society by the Lockhart family, is located in Estate Donoe along the Weymouth Rhymer Highway and across from the Market Square East intersection.
The property will allow the Humane Society to expand its facilities, enabling it to house more animals and reduce the need for euthanasia. The new facility will include an iguana sanctuary, a bird sanctuary, dog-walking trails, a picnic area and a boarding center to house the K-9 dogs for the V.I. Police Department.
Aubain said the project is expected to cost $3 million and would be completed within a year's time once the zoning request was approved and construction began.
"It's going to be one of the most important projects that you've seen in the territory in your lifetime," said Randy Knight, a Humane Society board member.
The Planning and Natural Resources Department's Coastal Zoning Management Division recommended the rezoning request and said no one had objected to the project.
Sen. Louis P. Hill said he is in support of the project because it is "good for the community." He added, "If we can do this for the animals, I believe we must have equal commitment to do this for the children and the elderly in the community."
Other requests heard by the committee were:
– A request from Kenneth Hermon to rezone land in Smith Bay from R-2 (residential low density, one and two family) to R-3 (residential- medium density) to construct four two-bedroom apartments and two three-bedroom apartments. The property is located near to the former mini-golf course in Smith Bay.
– A request from the V.I. Health Department to rezone land in Estate Annas Retreat from R-2 (residential low density, one and two family) to P (public) to construct a long-term care facility for mentally challenged individuals who are incapable of living independently. The property is located at the site of the former building that housed the old East End Clinic.
– A request from K & C Development to rezone land in the Bovoni area from R-3 (residential medium density) to C (commercial) to construct a small business complex. The property is located near to the access road to the Bovoni Housing Community near the Vitran Bus Stop.
– A request from Sunshine Investors Inc. to rezone land in Estate Ross from R-2 (residential low density, one and two family) to B-3 (business – scattered) to construct an office, retail and residential campus. The property is located along the Pollyberg Road on the hillside across from Barbell Plaza.
Each of the requests must be sponsored by at least one senator and written in the form of a bill before the full body can approve it.
All senators were present at the committee hearing with the exception of Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste, who was excused.
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