By IAN HILL
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
AUSTINTOWN -- Crocodiles and tigers and zoning. Oh my!
That's what public discussion has been like recently in this township, where local officials are trying to address the concerns of residents who live near two caimans on Stanford Avenue.
Caimans are Central and South American reptiles and are members of the crocodile family. Stanford Avenue resident Carl Fisher keeps two caimans as pets in a second-story room in his home.
A 6-foot-long caiman named Spencer escaped from the home last week by falling from a second-story window. He was captured by Fisher and two police officers.
Area residents said they want Spencer and his 3-foot-long housemate out of their neighborhood. Township trustees have said that currently, they don't have the power to remove the caimans.
Federal, state, and local laws don't address exotic pets.
However, the trustees said they might be able to address the concerns of local residents if they pass a zoning resolution prohibiting township residents from keeping exotic animals as pets. In addition, the officials have said they could remove the caimans if the state legislature passes a law prohibiting exotic pets, or if township voters approve limited self-government.
Tyson's tiger: Township Zoning Inspector Michael Kurilla Jr. said Trumbull County residents used a zoning ordinance in the mid-1990s to argue that pro boxer Mike Tyson shouldn't keep his pet tiger at his Southington Township estate.
The dispute ended when Tyson sold the estate in 1999.
Kurilla stressed that local officials wouldn't be able to remove Fisher's caimans if the trustees approve a new zoning resolution prohibiting exotic pets. The caimans would be exempted because Fisher had them as pets before the resolution was approved, he said.
However, Kurilla said the zoning resolution could keep township residents from keeping exotic pets in the future.
"In my opinion that would be the least effective method of dealing with an issue like this," he said.
Mahoning County Prosecutor Paul Gains is expected to issue an opinion in the near future on the township's options for dealing with the caimans. Kurilla said township officials won't decide if they're going to create the zoning resolution until after they receive the opinion from Gains.
State law: Meanwhile, state Rep. Kenneth Carano of Austintown, D-65th, said his staff has started looking into the possibility of passing a state law prohibiting exotic pets. Carano said it could be difficult to find support among state legislators for a law created to address the problems in Austintown.
However, he also said he feels Fisher's caiman presents an "extreme danger" to Stanford Avenue residents. Carano added that he thinks other communities around Ohio could be having similar problems with exotic pets.
"We can't be the only ones," he said.
Both Carano and Kurilla said they believe the best way for local residents to solve their caiman problems is to pass limited self-government, called home rule.
Home rule would give trustees the authority to enact ordinances limiting the ability of local residents to keep exotic animals as pets. Under home rule, trustees could also pass resolutions aimed at solving health, safety and sanitation problems.
Township voters have defeated home rule each of the three times it has appeared on the ballot since 1991.