Society Hill landowners quash ‘zoo’ rumors
By Bobby Bryant, Editor
Society Hill Town Council member Carolyn Oliver cut right to the chase. “You’re not going to open a zoo?” she asked town resident Joanne Duke. “No,” Duke replied as her husband, Dwayne, said, “We’ve already got the monkey, right here!” After months of rumors that the Dukes were planning to create a “zoo” on their 44 acres of land inside Society Hill town limits, the issue came before Town Council March 9 in an attempt to reconcile the Dukes’ activities with a 1970s town ordinance banning “livestock, swine, horses, donkeys, poultry or fowl” within town limits. (Some people do keep horses within town limits, but Mayor Tommy Bradshaw says he’s never had a complaint about them.) “I apologize for any confusion or fear and anxiety,” Joanne Duke told council and a packed audience. “I know there’s been a little bit of anxiety going on.” In an interview with the News & Press after the meeting, she said the controversy stems from small-town politics, grudges, the recent clearing of the land to create pastures and the fact that the Dukes aren’t natives of South Carolina. Joanne Duke said the Dukes keep a small number of farm animals on their land – a cow and her calf, two horses, four goats and four sheep. The county assessor lists the property as agricultural/commercial, Duke says. For years, she says, the Dukes have allowed troubled children to visit the property and bond with the animals. They also run a bed-and-breakfast from an historic home known as the Enoch Hanford House, according to their website, crazyblessedfarm.com. Joanne Duke said all the Dukes want is to have their existing animals “grandfathered into” the town’s ordinance. Asked how people got the idea the Dukes wanted to create a zoo on their land, she says, “That was all a rumor. … It’s not a zoo.” Council took no immediate action on the matter; members tabled the issue for now. But that decision came after some tense debate on whether the Dukes were harming property values in the area and whether council members, as one audience member said, had already decided against the Dukes. One resident living near the Dukes told council: “What am I going to do with my home?” No one would want it if it’s next to what amounts to a farm, she said. “I’ve got an idea,” Dwayne Duke said. “Why not put up a fence and not even know it’s near your property?” “When it comes to this farm – or ranch, or zoo, or whatever you want to call it – you get a number of farm animals out on a tract of land – there is going to be times” when it impacts on the community, such as odor, Bradshaw said. “Our responsibility is to look out for all of the people.” Joanne Duke said nothing has changed with their property except for cutting down the trees to create pasture land.