[caption id="attachment_33335" align="alignnone" width="708"]<img class="wp-image-33335 " src="https:\/\/mountainmedianews.com\/wp-content\/uploads\/sites\/13\/2018\/06\/ELEPHANT_1528668365992_45069994_ver1.0_640_360.jpg" alt="" width="708" height="398" \/> The West Virginia Renaissance Festival features Asian elephant, Lady Essex. Her caretaker, Lauryn Murray, not pictured, is an advocate for animal welfare. Murray has been the elephant\u2019s lifelong friend \u201csince the day I was born. She\u2019s been in our family her entire life.\u201d[\/caption]\r\n<h1>'The West Virginia Renaissance Festival held it's grand opening last weekend, and from all reports it was \u201ca very successful start.\u201d Speaking before the county commission on Tuesday, several people spoke enthusiastically for the festival.<\/h1>\r\nRich Ford called it a \u201cfascinating experience,\u201d that transports one to another time when jousting bouts and other games of skill and strength are played amidst colorful period-appropriate tents where vendors hawk their foods and wares, and exotic attired performers offer music and entertainment for people of all ages. Neighbor Richard Grist said he has already visited the festival twice. \u201cIt's professionally done,\u201d he said, \u201cadding another level to the Greenbrier County experience.\u201d\r\n\r\n\u201cIt was a better than hoped for opening,\u201d said festival founder, Taso Stavrakis of Hollow Hills Farm, where the festival is located.\r\n\r\nIf allowed to continue over the next few weekends of its 2018 maiden run, it will likely prove to be a \u201ctremendous economic driver\u201d in Greenbrier County in a few years, perhaps even rivaling the State Fair of West Virginia. Anticipated to be a massive tourism draw to Greenbrier Valley, the fate of the festival is still up in the air, complicated by zoning restrictions on a portion of the property that is zoned open space\/conservation, where no commercial activity is allowed.\r\n\r\n\u201cThis is the first time the commission has dealt with the Renaissance Festival at a public meeting,\u201d said county commissioner Woody\u00a0 Hanna. He said the planning commission could not make specific recommendations of the zoning requirements, and so, referred the approval for a special permit back to the board of zoning appeals (BZA), which will have to schedule an emergency meeting before the next scheduled Ren Fest weekend to approve or not approve a special permit. At press time, the date and hour of the public emergency meeting is not known. Hanna was optimistic that the BZA would find the right decision for the event.\r\n\r\nCommissioner Lowell Rose said the PLC and the BZA have been working for many months to update the county code to allow various non-farm activities such as weddings, picnics and corn mazes. \u201cThere will be language addressing activities on farms and areas in the county, whether [or not] it's a zoned district, that may not meet the uses that are defines at this time. We'll probably put those under a special use permit. Rezoning of the areas and properties will probably not be done,\u201d he said.\r\n\r\nCommissioner Mike McClung said he had \u201cno opposition to this festival...But I think it needs to be said...We wouldn't have had to jump through all of these hoops, all of this problem, if you had gone to where it was not zoned to create your festival.\u201d\r\n\r\nStavrakis responded, stating, \u201cI was told this would not be an issue. I was misinformed. Nobody had wished that this could have been made easier than us. A lot of stress, a lot of tears, a lot of money and time are being wasted trying to fix this issue, which seems like a non-issue. So, let's fix it. There has to be some flexibility. We aren't hurting anyone else. We're here to work it out.\u201d\r\n\r\nHe and partner Dawn Kieninger, who own the 300+ acre farm near Alta, and live on the festival site, are used to setbacks. Since purchasing the property, they have encountered and surmounted plenty of problems over the past few years to make the festival happen, and still more show up at their door.\r\n\r\nThe latest came in the form of a TB scare. The festival includes a popular elephant act, where children enjoy rides on Lady Essex, a 44-year-old Asian elephant. During the commission meeting, Leslie McCarty spoke with concerns about the potential for people to contract tuberculosis from elephants that test positive for TB. She said 18 percent of Asian elephants in the US have tested positive for tuberculosis, which is contracted aerially. McCarty said, \u201cthere is no federal law requiring that traveling elephants be tested for TB, and the state, likewise, has no law requiring that they test traveling elephants for TB.\u201d She said it's up to the county officials to prohibit exotic animal acts in Greenbrier County.\r\n\r\nStavrakis affirmed that the elephant is federally documented with regulations in place and all licenses and permits and vets are secured. In support of the elephant rides for children, he said there are no longer elephant acts due to the loss of circuses across the country, nor are there any breeding elephants left in the United States. In Africa, elephants are being exterminated, and some day they will all be gone, he said. In Asia, elephants are domesticated, like cows, chickens and dogs. Elephants like Lady Essex are are well cared for, treated like family and allowed to live a full life.\r\n\r\nHanna asked Stavrakis to confirm that the elephant is certified to not be a threat of carrying TB, which he agreed to do.\r\n\r\nIn other commission business:\r\n\r\n \r\n\r\n~The Day Report Center was approved to hire Christopher Defenbaugh as a drug screen observer, and to purchase a new vehicle for participant transportation.\r\n\r\n \r\n\r\n~The City of White Sulphur Springs requested to extend arts and recreation 2017\/2018 grant funding for their municipal swimming pool until the next fiscal period ending in 2019 due to delays in the project. The commission agreed to cap the delay to one more year.\r\n\r\n \r\n\r\n~ Hanna made a recommendation for the Arts & Rec 2018-2019 grant allocation amounting to $90,000 for the county libraries. Hanna said he used $30,000 of the arts & rec committee's recommendation for Dorie Miller Park for the libraries allocation, noting that Lewisburg has $283,000 of hotel\/motel tax funds at their discretion, unlike other county municipalities. A total of $10,938 was added to the allocations, making the total arts & rec allocations budget to be $460,938.\r\n\r\n \r\n\r\n~ Amy Maloney was approved to replace Bob Martin as coordinator for the Farmland Protection.\r\n\r\n \r\n\r\n~ The Sam Black Water Line Project was approved to purchase a water storage tank on private property for $25,000.\r\n\r\n \r\n\r\n~The courthouse parking lot upgrades, designed by Terradon, were approved to go out for bids. Interested parties are advised to contact the Greenbrier County Commission or Terradon offices.\r\n\r\n \r\n\r\n~ Kimberly Estep was approved for an appointment to the board of health.