MOUNT DESERT — The Planning Board last week denied Ann Rivers’ application for a conditional use permit to continue taking in and caring for rescued animals at the home she shares with her parents on Kimball Road in Northeast Harbor.
The board voted 5-0 to find that her operation fits the town’s definition of a commercial activity, which is not permitted in the Village Residential 2 zoning district. Several of her neighbors had complained that, even though they support the work she does, it is incompatible with the residential nature of the neighborhood.
Rivers has rehabilitated abused and abandoned domestic animals for several years with the goal of having them adopted, but she was not aware until recently that she needed a permit from the town.
Attorney Margaret Jeffery, who was retained by one of Rivers’ neighbors, told the Planning Board, “We were able to go into some cached documents on Facebook and Bar Harbor Barter & Swap…that clearly show that there were several instances over the years of selling products, of raising products to sell.”
Jeffery said that, in one instance, Rivers was offering quail eggs for sale.
Rivers’ attorney, Seth Libby, explained that the eggs were from Rivers’ pet quails and had nothing to do with her animal rescue operation.
“I can assure you there is no buying or selling of rescue animals,” he told the board. “There have been sporadic incidents over the last few years of things being sold. But these were not the animals under her care.”
Libby said Rivers takes donations to help defray expenses, including from people who adopt animals from her, but that such donations are voluntary.
Lindsey Wilson, who said she has been volunteering with Rivers for several years, told the board, “I have never seen her ask anyone for payment for any of the animals they have taken from her.”
Rivers has 30 days from the date of the Planning Board’s denial of her permit application to appeal that decision to the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals. But she
told the Islander on Monday that she does not plan to appeal.
“I would like to think an appeal would make a difference, but it’s pretty clear that my neighbors don’t want me here, and that makes me sad.
“I am going to try to use this as a pushing-off point to perhaps get into a new piece of property, either on MDI or just into Trenton,” Rivers said. “My goal long-term has been to move into a facility where I could have a better place to do what I do, and maybe incorporate an education center where people could come in and learn. There really is not the possibility for that here.
“It’s sad to think about leaving the home I’ve been in my whole life, but this has made it abundantly clear that the only way for me to continue doing what I love and still have the support of my neighbors is to leave my home.”
She said she is looking into creating a 501(c)3 tax-exempt charitable corporation.
Members of the Planning Board and several of the people who opposed the granting of a permit praised the work that Rivers has been doing.
“It’s not what is being done, it’s where it’s being done,” attorney Jeffery said. “There is a specific prohibition in this zone of commercial animal husbandry.”
Much of the debate at the nearly two-hour Planning Board meeting focused on whether Rivers’ operation is, indeed, commercial, according to the town’s definition.
“I don’t think a single person is here because they are against what she’s doing,” board member Dave Ashmore said of Rivers. “[But] I feel it’s a commercial operation, and I don’t think it’s really compatible with the neighborhood.”
Board member Christie Anastasia suggested that the board might consider granting Rivers a permit, but with certain conditions, such as limiting the number of animals she could keep at any one time. Rivers said she would be “very comfortable” adhering to whatever conditions the board wanted to impose.
But board Chairman Bill Hanley questioned how that could be enforced. “How is the town going to regulate that?” he asked. “Is it the town’s responsibility to check in and make sure you only have five or this and you don’t have that [type of animal]?”
Christopher Scott, who lives across the street from Rivers, said that if she could move her operation to a zoning district where it is allowed, “I think we should all support Ann. We should all come together as a community and find a way to help Ann continue this passion.”
Hanley agreed, saying, “We’ve got a fantastic community here that pulls together when we need to and in amazing ways. I’m always amazed at what can be achieved around here just by asking.”
Rivers told the Islander, “I don’t see this as the end of what I’m doing. This is just the beginning of a different chapter because this is a passion; it’s my sustenance; it’s my life. And you don’t just give that up.”