Thursday, September 23, 2021

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Guilford PZC Aims for Decision on Wildlife Rehabber on Aug. 4

The Planning & Zoning Commission (PZC) chose to put off a decision on local wildlife rehabilitator Eunice Demond’s application for official approval of her facilities on Old Whitfield Street, with PZC Chair Phil Johnson saying at the July 21 meeting that he would aim for a ruling at the next meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 4.

Demond’s work, which was discontinued after a neighbor complained about insect, odor, and rodent problems last year, has drawn an outpouring of support from the community as she seeks local approval to continue rescuing and rehabilitating small animals on her property, which she has been doing for more than a decade.

The PZC closed the public hearing portion of Demond’s application on July 7, giving itself 65 days to render a final decision.

The underlying zoning issues appear complex, and the PZC promised to consult legal counsel in regard to certain definitions as Demond seeks approval as a “philanthropic organization” since Guilford’s zoning codes do not address wildlife rehabilitation one way or another.

Johnson recently joked with a consultant currently engaged in an audit of the town’s zoning regulations, asking if he had come up with a definition of “wildlife sanctuary.”

“I read the [newspaper], you’re not drawing me in on this one,” the consultant, Glenn Chalder, said with a laugh in response.

Demond has been licensed by the state for around seven years, though both local and state inspectors identified shortcomings in the facilities, which were subsequently addressed.

Outside of the regulatory and zoning issues, which remain murky and unprecedented, the case has elicited widespread interest through the community, with dozens of people writing letters, speaking at public meetings, or putting up signs in support for her operation, which offers shelter to dozens of raccoons, squirrels, and rabbits at any given time.

More than anything, those who have worked with or interacted with her have sought to emphasize just how dedicated she is to the care of helpless creatures, driving to pick up animals day or night and putting in numerous hours of work to feed and care for them at her home.

Notably, one of the neighbors who initially complained is an alternate on the PZC. Bill Freeman, who filed the complaint with Alicia Dolce, has recused himself from deliberation and discussion on the application.

According to Johnson, legal counsel was in fact consulted, and the PZC was told that it was up to them to decide whether or not Demond could apply under the regulation that she has.

“There’s some judgment involved associated with this,” Johnson said. “You can try to make a case for it or a case against it. That’s why we’re tasked with this assignment.”

Town Planner George Kral added that the PZC’s attorney, Chuck Andres, would be “intimately involved” in drafting motions and other PZC procedural steps taken going forward.

Very likely the PZC, if it approves Demond’s application, will do so with specific conditions, which it has broad authority to do under the special permit process.

Members seemed split on where they were leaning as far as the approach to Demond’s situation—whether to see it as a broadly subjective decision that could include the obviously positive community sentiment, or whether to limit their considerations to the most objective interpretation of regulation.

“Her heart is in the right place and she’s doing a service to the town,” said PZC member Allyn Brown, “And I think these are things we need to consider.”

“Nobody’s denying that it’s a useful service provided, but again, is it what she says, or is it how she’s applying for it?” asked PZC member Richard Wallace. “We make a lot of hard decisions here; we have to go by the letter of the code, not by emotion.

The Aug. 4 Planning & Zoning Commission meeting will take place virtually at 7:30 p.m. Information on how to join can be found on the town website www.ci.guilford.ct.us.


Jesse Williams covers Guilford and Madison for Zip06. Email Jesse at j.williams@shorepublishing.com.

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