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Neighbors file suit against wildlife center

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Buckeye Trace homeowners ask judge to shut down Second Chances

By Tracy Harris

The county’s only wildlife rehabilitation center for mammals faces more resistance as a civil lawsuit filed earlier this month seeks to shut down the center.

Second Chances Rehabilitation Center founder Brigette Williams is one of three licensed wildlife rehabilitators in the county, but the other two people only treat birds. 

The lawsuit, filed by the Buckeye Trace Homeowners Association, lists 27 individual residents as plaintiffs in the case. Those people account for 15 of 25 properties in the Buckeye Trace subdivision. One partner in the Buckeye Development Company, Arthur Mengel, is also listed as a plaintiff.

In the filing, Williams and her husband, Bruce, are accused of violating the Buckeye Trace subdivision’s deed restrictions. The homeowners association seeks for a judge to rule the center violates deed restrictions and needs to be closed.

The lawsuit alleges the Williamses operated a business on a residential property, built structures on their property without approval and house animals other than household pets. 

Chad Soard, a wildlife biologist with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, oversees licensing rehabilitation facilities.

Soard said this is an unusual situation, and the first civil lawsuit against a rehabilitation facility that he’s seen.

“Rehabbers provide a valuable public service,” he said, adding people typically appreciate having a place to take orphaned, injured or otherwise displaced wildlife.

“It’s a labor of love,” he said.

Williams hasn’t been feeling the love, though. 

She said she is “not completely shocked” by the lawsuit after Oldham Planning and Development officials issued her a citation in July for building cages without a building permit.

In November 2010, Williams received a $25,000 grant from Pepsi to build the cages, which needed to be enlarged to meet state regulations. 

Construction on the cages began in May, but Williams had not applied for a county building permit or permission from the homeowners association. She said she didn’t know a permit was necessary.

Williams worked with Planning and Development Assistant Director Brian Davis to bring the structures into compliance.

The Oldham County Board of Adjustments and Appeals ruled in July that a wildlife rehabilitation center is not a permitted use for property in a residential area.

The wildlife center is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization on 10 acres in Buckeye Trace. 

Williams’ attorney, Deborah Kent, argued in July that the center could be classified as a “game farm,” which she said is a permitted use according to the county’s zoning restrictions.

Williams, who was named Conservation Teacher of the Year in 2010 by the Oldham County Conservation District, said it will come down to a matter of community support if the center is to stay open.

“People have the impression that it was over (in July),” she said. “But it’s not.”

The case has not been assigned a court date as of press time.