GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Clay County’s furry friends became the focal point of the Board of County Commissioners last Tuesday, with both the future of the county’s animal services facility and a pet resort on the agenda.
Board members took up the future of the aging animal services facility as well as allowing a rezoning that would permit a Pet Paradise resort to be built on Fleming Island.
The rezoning for the pet resort, which will be located near the Fleming Island Plantation entrance on U.S. 17, was approved by a 5-0 vote. The future of the county’s animal services facility did not get an official vote, but four of the commissioners gave a nod to looking at future plans for a new facility.
Commissioner Gayward Hendry needed to leave by the time of the animal facility discussion due to an official event he was to attend.
The future of the animal services facility has long been an item of discussion. As one volunteer who appeared at the meeting said, the growth in Clay County has long surpassed the 50-year-old facility.
When the facility was first built in the 1970s, the population in Clay County was about 32,000, said Dana Spurrier. Today, the population is about 212,000.
“The county is continuing to grow, every day new houses are being built, and we’re still at a small, 50-year-old shelter,” she said.
Spurrier also advocated for a more centrally located facility. Now sitting at 3984 SR 16 West, the current facility is less than easily accessible for many county residents. A more centrally located facility would probably attract more volunteers and create more exposure and education for the general public, she said.
“I just think that as a citizen of Clay County it’s time for us to quit calling it the pound and quit referring to our animal control officers as dog catchers,” she said, adding it was time for Clay County to “get on board” with the “huge industry” pets are becoming and move forward the way some of the surrounding counties are doing.
Troy Nagle, information services director for the county as well as the acting director of animal services, also spoke to the board about the existing facility.
Nagle suggested that the county investigate having an expert look at just what the county would need to build a new facility. For years, he said, a new facility has been discussed, but no one ever has really looked into just what amount of space would be needed.
“We would like to engage with a firm to do that,” he said.
His efforts so far have shown that for $5,000, the county could get an assessment of just what size the county would need. For about $13,000 it could get a space analysis plus a conceptual floor plan and an “opinion” of what the cost would be. For $16,000, the county could get all of the items included in the second plan plus an artist’s rendering of what the building would look like, Nagle said.
Commissioner Gavin Rollins said he thought it was important to have the rendering.
“It helps create an image of the vision” of what the commission is trying to do, he said, which could be helpful for planning purposes and even private donations.
Commission chairman Mike Cella also expressed a desire to have someone of experience look at the county’s needs, saying, “I think we need to have somebody that’s an expert tell us what kind of space we’re looking at.”
While the $16,000 bill is not budgeted at this time, acting county manager Lorin Mock said he believed they could look at the budget and come up with solutions for funding and have a proposal around April.
Commissioner Diane Hutchins said she thought the group should look into a “lease-purchase” type of arrangement where a developer actually built the facility and the county then leased it.
“For some reason if Clay County puts out a bid, the price goes through the roof, so I would like for us to explore that,” she said.
The current facility has a capacity of 51 adult dogs plus 10 quarantine kennels, 10 small dogs/puppies and 55 to 75 cats/kittens, said Kimberly Morgan, information officer for Clay County.
The annual animal intake is approximately 3,800, she added.
Also, on the agenda was the Pet Paradise resort rezoning. The new resort, labeled “the Ritz” when the subject came up before the Planning Commission at the beginning of March, would provide for boarding, doggie day care, grooming and veterinarian care, said Emily Pierce, who represented the firm. It would also have a pool for pets to use.
William Inham, also representing Pet Paradise, said the company operates 32 resorts across nine states and employs about 1,000 people, with each resort employing about 25 people. Special care is taken to make sure pets don’t create a noise disturbance and are comfortably taken care of.
Pete Davis, chairman of the Fleming Island Advisory Committee, said his group had met with representatives of Pet Paradise and have given its approval. Davis said that to him, Pet Paradise was a “much better fit” than some of the other items that could go into the space Pet Paradise is looking at. The other businesses would be much more intense, he said.
Cost of the resort, which would have a capacity of 180, tallies in at about $4 million, Inham said.