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Owners can appeal decision by hearings officer; Washington County commissioners set June 19 to hear revised ordinance to ban exotic animals, but a broader exemption could allow grace period for Walk on the Wild Side if it seeks national accreditation.

New developments are affecting the status of a Walk on the Wild Side, a nonprofit locked in a dispute with Washington County over the keeping of exotic animals at a former horse farm north of Hillsboro.

A hearings officer decided Monday (June 4) that the nonprofit violated county code twice. One violation was its feeding and management of exotic animals on land zoned for farming, and the other was its failure to obtain county permits for structures to house the animals.

The maximum penalty of $10,000 — $5,000 for each violation — was imposed.

Steve Higgs and Cheryl Jones, the owners, can reduce that penalty by 50 percent if they remove the animals, show they are in compliance with state wildlife regulations, and either remove the structures or obtain the proper permits.

They can appeal the hearings officer decision within 21 days to the state Land Use Board of Appeals or seek a review within 60 days in Washington County Circuit Court.

Walk on the Wild Side and the county have been in a dispute since March 18, 2016, when the owners got a notice from the county counsel that they did not have land-use clearances or permits to move exotic animals to the Victory Lane site south of Sunset Highway.

Public hearing June 19

In the meantime, Washington County commissioners proceeded Tuesday (June 5) to incorporate some previously discussed changes to a proposed ordinance banning exotic animals.

Although five people spoke about the changes — including an official spokesman for Walk on the Wild Side — the commissioners simply continued the ordinance to June 19, when they will hear formal public testimony during their business meeting.

aOne change would have the ordinance take effect 90 days after doption, instead of 30 days.

The other change would broaden an exemption from the ban if there is a certification by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, or if an application for certification is awaiting approval. The proposed grace period is one year, after which the exemption would expire.

"It's a reasonable approach," Commissioner Roy Rogers said of the changes described by Brad Anderson, senior assistant county counsel.

State law empowers counties and cities to ban "exotic animals," defined as non-domestic cats and dogs, non-native bears, alligators and crocodiles, and primates. Beaverton has a similar ordinance and Hillsboro has a partial ban.

The proposed ban already contains exemptions for the Oregon Zoo — which is in Portland's Washington Park, and outside Washington County — and the Oregon National Primate Research Center in Beaverton.

But there is no proposed exemption for pre-existing uses.

The proposed ban is not a land use regulation, unlike the proceeding that concluded June 4 involving Walk on the Wild Side.

Darin Campbell, who represents Walk on the Wild Side, said the owners will offer substitute language for the changes but did not hint at what it might be.

Debra Burke supported the nonprofit and criticized the commissioners for trying to thwart its efforts.

But three others urged the commissioners to proceed.

"Walk on the Wild Side should not be allowed to evade regulations," Genna Vaughan said.

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