The St. Croix Animal Welfare Center building in Estate Clifton Hill was destroyed in Hurricane Maria in 2017, and Animal Welfare operations were moved to locations at Five Corners and a pet shop near Food Town.
Mike Meluskey, a board member for the Animal Welfare organization, said at the Department of Natural Resources, Division of Comprehensive and Coastal Zone Planning hearing Wednesday, it is time for the organization to spend millions of dollars to rebuild the shelter at its old home.
He said the organization, which is getting $1.4 million from FEMA, needs the space. He showed Coastal Zone Planning officials how the proposed new shelter would look. The architectural rendering of the proposed building shows a bigger and far more elegant building than the old shelter and is a far cry from the present state of the building in Clifton Hill. Meluskey said the old building was now an “abandoned, rat-infested, eyesore.”
But, before any new building can go forward, a zoning change is needed. The public hearing Wednesday was for the Animal Welfare Center’s request for a use variance for its residentially zoned property in Estate Clifton Hill. The variance would allow an office, a veterinary hospital, a pet shop area, and an animal shelter.
Meluskey said the plans included a sound buffer wall to the north where a residence was located. He also said the shelter, being two-story, would help contain the sounds of dogs barking.
Gregg Wiltshire, who lives in the residence north of the shelter, did not appear impressed. He said at the hearing that he was for the building of a new animal shelter, but not at that location.
He said there were problems before the hurricane. “You cannot control noise,” said Wiltshire. He said the old building had “addition on addition on addition.” His conclusion was, “This is not zoned for an animal shelter.”
The hearing was the first step for the Animal Welfare process in getting a zoning variance. The public can submit comments about the proposal to the Division of Planning by Sept. 12. They can be emailed to Leia LaPlace-Matthew, territorial planner, at email@example.com.
After the public comment deadline, the Division of Planning will write a recommendation about what should be done concerning the request. The Senate then acts on the request. Usually, it follows the Division of Planning’s recommendation, but not always.
In response to Wiltshire’s opposition, Meluskey said the new building at the old animal shelter would help the neighborhood and make it a better neighborhood.
Dr. Michelle Mehalick, medical director for Animal Welfare and the shelter veterinarian, said the organization was focused on being good community members.
Animal Welfare is the only open-admission animal shelter on St. Croix. According to its website, it takes in more than 3,000 dogs and cats each year. It also finds new homes for them on St. Croix, and in the states through the Paws from Paradise transfer program. The website also states, “Community Clinic veterinary team helps thousands more owned pets get affordable medical care … We offer low-cost spay/neuter surgeries to every pet owner on the island.”
Meluskey said the shelter had been in Clifton Hill since 1976.
The territorial planner had questions about septic and water at the new building. She was told the plans called for a new septic system and the new building would have three sources of water – a cistern, a spring, and the Water and Power Authority.
Editor’s Note: This story has been corrected to say that the deadline for accepting public comment regarding plans for a new shelter by the St. Croix Animal Welfare Center is Sept. 12, not 30 days as was previously reported.