Garden City removes pit bull breeds from vicious dog ordinance

2/4/2014

By SCOTT AUST

By SCOTT AUST

saust@gctelegram.com

Pit bull type breeds are no longer specifically identified as vicious in Garden City after the city commission amended its vicious dog ordinance on Tuesday.

Before the change, pit bulls were named in the city's ordinance, defined as any American Pit Bull Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier or American Staffordshire Terrier breed, or any mixed breed that has the appearance of being predominantly one of those three breeds.

In early December, local attorney Luci Douglass asked the city commission to remove the part of the ordinance that specifically presumes those three breeds are vicious.

Removing the breed specific language means owners of those dogs no longer have to post signs or maintain pens or structures unless their animals are declared vicious in municipal court. Owners also can walk their dogs without muzzles from now on.

Randy Grisell, city attorney, said removing the breed-specific language means determining whether a dog is vicious will be based on the animal's conduct. A vicious dog means any dog with a propensity or disposition to attack people or domestic animals without provocation, one that has attacked or bitten a human being or domestic animal or has been trained for dogfighting.

"The same type of conduct will lead to a citation and designation as a vicious dog once it gets to municipal court. But the fact that you have a pit bull or some of the others that we had defined, that doesn't mean it's vicious," Grisell said.

Grisell suggested the police department or municipal court could track citations over the next year to see if there are any significant differences between citations for pit bulls or other breeds. The commission could revisit the issue then to see if the change is working or needs adjustment.

Police Chief James Hawkins said the department made no recommendation about the proposed ordinance change, but has concerns about pit bull types appearing in public places off leash. He said as long as pit bulls are kept on leashes as required for other dogs things should be alright.

"I think we can live with the change. Pit bulls, according to a lot of people, are hard to define and identify so maybe we've been identifying the wrong dogs," he said.

Hawkins said according to some statistics, pit bulls have either been No. 1 or No. 2 in bites each year.

"Last year, they were second behind chihuahuas, so you can take that for what it's worth," he said. "I think if we maintain the vicious dog ordinance and identify them from behavior, we can live with that."

In other business Tuesday:

* Commissioners approved an amendment to the sign ordinance to allow signs of up to 450 square feet in the county and to let electronic message boards be a permitted type of off-site sign. However, those large billboards won't be allowed inside city limits. Large off-site signs could be placed in the county 500 feet from the city limits, but the Finney County Commission hasn't signed off on that amendment yet.

Kaleb Kentner, community planning and development director, said the planning commission studied the issue for more than two months and didn't feel it was appropriate to allow any off-site signs of that size anywhere within city limits, though it's possible there might be future requests to allow some off-site signs along the bypass.

"From the conversations we had, I believe this will be taken up again by the planning commission to address an overlay along the bypass which would allow for these off-premise signs," Kentner said.

The Planning Commission makes recommendations on applications for annexation, rezoning, and subdivisions to ensure the orderly growth and anticipated physical development of the Holcomb, Garden City and Finney County area.

The Finney County Commission and Holcomb City Council will take action on the amendment, as well. The goal, Kentner said, is to keep regulations similar among all three entities to avoid confusing sign companies or contractors about what is and is not allowed.

Off-site advertising signs up to 64 square feet in size are only allowed in commercial and industrial districts inside the city limits.

Dr. Nathan Standmark asked the planning commission for an amendment to the regulations to allow larger signs and electronic message boards as a type of off-site advertising. According to planning commission minutes, Standmark was mostly looking at locations in the county and one along the bypass.

To help mitigate the impact of larger signs, preserve property values, create a more favorable environment for citizens and visitors, and promote safety and the development of an attractive city, the following changes also will go into effect:

Off-site signs larger than 64 square feet will not be allowed within the city limits; can be no closer than a quarter-mile from another pole or pylon sign; and no closer than 500 feet from any intersection. Off-site advertising can't be closer than 100 feet from buildings or within 500 feet of residentially zoned land.

Updated regulations on electronic message boards included limits on brightness, and allow on-site signs to be as large as 80 square feet and off-site signs to be as large as 450 square feet. To allow for different configurations, landscaping requirements were changed from a five-foot radius to an 80-square-foot area around the sign.

"Because this has to do with off-premise signs, a lot of discussion was about the comprehensive plan and the community's desire to maintain the "Garden" in Garden City, limiting the number of distractions, as well as visual clutter," Kentner said.

* Melinda Hitz, finance director, and the city's finance department were recognized with a Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting from the Government Finance Officers Association for its comprehensive annual financial report for the fiscal year that ended Dec. 31, 2012.

The certificate of achievement is presented to government units whose annual financial reports are judged to adhere to program standards and represents the highest award in government financial reporting. Garden City's finance department has received the recognition in 19 of the last 20 years.

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