By Mark Waite
An attorney from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals PETA threatened to sue Nye County Wednesday over a conditional use permit issued to Karl Mitchell’s animal sanctuary.
An agenda item for the revocation of Mitchell’s conditional use permit was postponed another month at Mitchell’s request. But RPC member John Koenig warned it will be his last continuance.
PETA attorney Carney Anne Chester told the Pahrump Regional Planning Commission she was previously a code enforcement and litigation attorney for the City of Dallas and came from Louisiana. She spoke at the second public comment period at the end of the nearly four-hour meeting.
“The Nevada Supreme Court made it abundantly clear that issuance of a special use permit or a conditional use permit requires substantial evidence showing that not only would the use of the land pose no detriment to public safety, health or welfare, but there is substantial evidence that it would actually enhance the surrounding area. I have the correspondence of at least one neighbor. The substantial evidence in this case weighs overwhelmingly against allowing this individual to continue to violate the law, flout the law, brazenly disregard local, state and federal laws,” Chester said.
She applauded the RPC for denying the permit, but added “the full board when they voted to overturn your decision by granting him the permit, they did vote to violate the law.”
The RPC voted 4-1 in August to deny Mitchell a CUP to house eight tigers and a liger — a cross between a lion and a tiger — on property belonging to Ray “The Flagman” Mielzynski, on the far north end of Pahrump. That came after the RPC deadlocked 3-3 in June. But Nye County commissioners overturned the decision in a 3-2 vote Oct. 16.
Previous court mandamus decisions have shown it is an abuse of discretion for a county government to issue a conditional use permit when there is no substantial evidence, Chester said. She accused Mitchell of stalling in continuing the case.
“The only decision consistent with the law is to revoke his permit. Save your county from a potential mandamus action,” Chester said. “The substantial evidence in this case weighs overwhelmingly against allowing this individual to violate the law.”
That followed a speech by Las Vegas resident Annoula Wylderich, who accused Mitchell of having a history of breaking the law and committing animal cruelty.
“The USDA has fined him thousands of dollars and permanently revoked his exhibitor license because of ongoing, serious violations of the Animal Welfare Act. These included withholding water as a training technique, forcing animals to live in excrement-filled enclosures, failing to supply them with veterinary care and failing to provide large cats with enough space in which to move around. He’s currently under investigation by the USDA and fish and wildlife for continuing to exhibit and transport exotic animals across state lines without a valid license,” Wylderich said.
She said this land isn’t meant for animals who aren’t indigenous to the area and referred to the disaster in Zanesville, Ohio last year, in which the owner of numerous exotic animals committed suicide and let his animals loose.
“Mr. Mitchell’s compound has garnered negative publicity nationwide and raised the question that officials may not be looking out for the safety and well-being of their residents and Mitchell’s animals. I ask that you show concern for residents and compassion for the animals who are being forced to live a miserable existence. This enterprise of his, which capitalizes upon the suffering of animals and compromises the safety of the community, does not deserve your support,” Wylderich said.
Linda Halko Crossley, at the beginning of the meeting, said she attended her second RPC meeting to protest and had to give up a doctor’s appointment.
“I live three-quarters of a mile away from where he is boarding his lions and tigers and ligers. I have a five-acre ranch and ever since he moved in nothing has been the same,” Crossley said.
RPC Chairman Terry Hand didn’t open up public comment for Mitchell’s agenda item. He told Crossley she could speak at the second public comment period but she chose not to wait.
Pahrump Town Board member Harley Kulkin said the two speakers probably never visited Mitchell’s property.
“I do know many of the residents immediately next to that property. None of them have any complaints about those animals being there whatsoever,” Mitchell said. “I also know that we’re not enforcement for the federal government. If they have a problem with Mr. Mitchell, I can’t help but wonder why they’re not doing something about it.”
“From what I saw, those animals are well cared for and they seem pretty happy where they’re at,” he said.
Numerous letters have been received from around the world for and against Mitchell’s animal sanctuary. Wylderich’s statement echoed letters other animal advocates filed with the RPC. In his argument for approval, Mitchell had a petition signed by 583 people.
After Mitchell’s agenda item, a crowd of 120 people was told a request by contractor Rene Morales to open a private, municipal, solid waste landfill on the property of his concrete batch plant and metal recycling yard was being postponed 60 days at Morales’ request.
As dozens of people filed out of the meeting room after that announcement, one woman remarked, the board would probably wait until a meeting when a crowd wasn’t there and approve the application.