Planning and Zoning Commission approves rezone for proposed zoo park<BR>

A rezone application to accommodate plans for a zoological park and animal rescue sanctuary in Wikieup drew the unanimous support of the Mohave County Planning and Zoning Commission at a Wednesday meeting.

The commission voted 7-0 (Commissioner Larry Lively was absent) to approve the rezone for 75 acres subject to nine conditions that staff recommended the nonprofit Wildlife Waystation of Los Angeles County meet for the proposed Wilderness Edge.

The zoning changes from agricultural-residential (with minimum lot sizes of 10 acres) to commercial-recreation and applies to land on both sides of U.S.

Highway 93 3.25 miles north of Chicken Springs Road.

The panel previously approved the rezone Nov.

14, but the county supervisors voted Dec.

3 to send it back to the commission because of concerns raised about the Waystation's track record in Los Angeles County.

The commission and supervisors previously approved a similar rezone for 15 adjoining acres that the Waystation bought, but that was before the supervisors learned of the problems the Waystation has encountered with Los Angeles County government.

Los Angeles County fire inspectors ordered the 160-acre Waystation in the Angeles National Forest to close Sept.

18 because of an insufficient water storage and distribution system and a hillside near some lions' cages that inspectors indicated was in danger of collapsing.

Some planning commissioners quizzed Waystation representatives about the situation in Los Angeles County, but the panel determined no reason existed to deny the rezone request.

The supervisors are expected to consider the rezone at a Jan.

22 meeting.

"Basically, the commission is looking forward to it, as long as they meet planning and zoning requirements," Commissioner Earl Hamlyn of Kingman said after the meeting.

Those conditions include obtaining a zoo license and related permits from state and federal agencies, submitting a plan to the county and state for disposing of animal waste and installing a water system that meets state standards.

If the conditions are not met within a year, the supervisors may conduct a public hearing to grant an extension, determine the Waystation is meeting its schedule for development or revert the property to its former zoning.

Martine Colette, founder and executive director of the Waystation, said afterward that she was "thrilled" with the panel's decision, and cited the support that she has received from Wikieup residents.

More than 50 residents signed a petition over the past week in support of the zoo park/sanctuary.

"We now go to the permit process," Colette said.

"I would like to be open (for business) by May if possible.

I would like to have a small part of the facility open."

Colette plans to house exotic animals such as tigers and chimpanzees as well as animals rescued from abuse.

And while she is starting with 90 acres, she said the zoological park/sanctuary may expand "as we progress."

Colette, who owns a home in Mohave Valley, said she may transfer key staff such as veterinarians from Los Angeles County, but indicated that she will hire animal keepers and service employees locally.

Colette told the commissioners that the Wikieup site is an expansion and not a plan to relocate from Little Tujunga Canyon.

The Wildlife Waystation remains closed to the public, said Lari Sheehan, assistant administrator officer to the Los Angeles County chief administrator's office.

"The major life safely violations are still there," Sheehan said before the meeting.

"We are going to have to do a follow-up inspection, and we are going to be meeting with them next week."

Los Angeles County officials have been overzealous, Carolyn Ingram Seitz, a planning consultant to the Waystation, told the commissioners.

"There does not have to be a basis of facts for the allegations," she said.