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A $25,000 grant for a Goshen area non-profit has led to zoning violations and a heated campaign by neighboring property owners for the founder to discontinue her program.
Second Chances Wildlife Center is a 501c3 organization headquartered off U.S. 42 near St. Francis School that provides rehabilitation and safe release to injured and orphaned wildlife.
It’s founder, Brigette Williams, is a licensed wildlife rehabilitator with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife. Williams operates the center at her home, situated on 10 acres on Buckeye Trace. In November, Williams earned a $25,000 grant from Pepsi to build new cages for animals in rehab at the center.
But now, a citation issued by Oldham Planning and Development threatens the future of the center.
Williams said the department of fish and wildlife requires animal rehab centers to build large cages to increase the chance of an animal having a successful transition back into the wild. She applied for grant funding according to the cage requirements.
When construction began in May, Williams noticed neighbors taking a keen interest in the activity on her property.
Next to her house, the rehabilitation center is conducted out of a renovated barn and averages 10 animals year-round in various stages of recovery.
During peak months – May and June – the center accepts up to 40 animals, including injured or orphaned raccoons, possums, squirrels, rabbits, chipmunks, groundhogs and skunks.
Animals are vaccinated and examined for disease. After the animals recuperate and mature, they are released into the wild.
Buffalo Construction offered to build new cages free of charge and Williams thinks the presence of the crews in early May attracted her neighbors.
She hadn’t applied for a building permit from the county, and hadn’t sought approval from the Buckeye Trace homeowners’ association.
Williams said she didn’t know a permit was necessary.
“We put so much effort into getting that grant. Now Oldham County is telling me to tear them down and to get rid of the animals,” Williams said.
2010 was a year of praise for Williams.
Not only did she earn the $25,000 Pepsi grant, the Oldham County Conservation District selected her as the 2010 Conservation Teacher of the Year.
“So now I’m being punished for what I was previously praised for,” Williams said.
But Jim Urban, director of Oldham County Planning and Zoning, said Williams didn’t apply for a building permit and hasn’t provided appropriate paperwork in a timely fashion.
Lack of a building permit is only the first of Williams’ problems. Now the county is asking her to shut down her entire wildlife center.
Urban said Buckeye Trace property owners contacted him when construction crews started building cages on Williams’ property.
“The property is located in a residential subdivision with deed restrictions,” Urban said. “In addition, there are county regulations and zoning restrictions that we found to be in violation.”
Andrew Baird, president of the Buckeye Trace Homeowners’ Association, said the wildlife center doesn’t comply with the area’s deed restrictions – in place since 1977.
Restrictions state that property must be primarily used for residential purposes, and prohibits non-domesticated animals.
And one final deed restriction seems to put the final decision about the center’s future in the neighbors’ hands: “No noxious or offensive trade or activity shall be conducted on any lot, nor shall anything be done which may be or become an annoyance or nuisance to the neighborhood.”
While Williams admits she received a copy of the restrictions prior to purchasing her home in 2010, Williams said she cleared plans for the wildlife center with former planning and zoning director Louise Allen before she purchased the property.
“Last year, I cleared my wildlife center with the director of Planning and Zoning,” Williams said. “I did that before I purchased the property, to make certain I was in compliance. She said I was fine. The county shouldn’t be getting involved.”
But Urban said things have changed since last year. Allen is no longer the director, and Urban says officials believed the center would be operated differently, although he did not provide details.
“Before the sale was even final, I sent a postcard to every single neighbor inviting them to an open house for Second Chances Wildlife, so they could learn all about it. Several of them came. No one voiced aloud any problem with what we do at all,” Williams said.
But Baird said the postcards prompted several phone calls to the homeowners association from neighbors concerned about a wildlife center operating in a residential area.
Baird said he immediately notified real estate agents involved in the sale that a wildlife center is not acceptable for the area.
After some discussion and verbal clarification, Baird did not further contest the purchase of the property. However, he too feels that Williams did not accurately portray how the center would be conducted.
One of the operational objections is the amount of traffic that surrounds Second Chances Wildlife.
“There are volunteers over there all the time. They bring children out for educational purposes,” Baird said. “It’s just not suitable for a residential neighborhood.”
But Williams contests she has no more visitors per week than anyone else in the neighborhood.
“Peak season lasts for one to two months. At that time, I’ll have five volunteers twice a week. When it’s not peak season, I have hardly any visitors at all,” she said.
The Buckeye Trace Homeowners’ Association includes 29 members. Baird said 25 members want Second Chances Wildlife shut down.
Williams says that while that may be the case, Oldham County Planning and Zoning had no reason to get involved.
Initially, she received a notice of violation and a stop work order from planning and zoning.
She exchanged e-mails with assistant director Brian Davis, who helped her bring the structures in compliance with the regulations.
Only one cage is large enough to require a building permit, but Williams thought she resolved the situation by following the suggestion of planning and zoning officials who suggested she attach it to a barn.
“The trouble started after I notified the Buckeye Trace Homeowners’ Association that I was in compliance,” she said. “Then I get a citation. Then I get told I have to shut everything down. Then I get told I have 30 days to get rid of my animals.”
Williams believes the citation is based on misleading information provided by neighbors who want her center shut down. During her son’s graduation party in May, Williams said guests spotted neighbors hiding among landscaping in order to photograph the event as proof that her wildlife center attracts traffic.
She believes misleading photographs from the party are being used to inaccurately convince Urban and other officials that Second Chances Wildlife bring s dozens of people and vehicles to Buckeye Trace daily.
“I just can’t believe a citation was issued based on lies,” Williams said.
Her communication with Urban and other officials is strained.
Urban told The Oldham Era that his opinion about Second Chances Wildlife changed after neighbors illustrated the amount of traffic visiting Buckeye Trace.
He also said printouts provided to him of online comments Williams posted to her Facebook page led to his investigation of the center.
“We came to the conclusion that when a large number of volunteers are involved, a non-profit organization is really a business,” Urban said. “Whether you make money or not is beside the point. Too much traffic is coming through there and that is not allowable in a residential neighborhood.”
Williams has appealed the citation and her case goes before the Board of Adujstments and Appeals at 9 a.m. July 21.
“It’s just sad to think that I’m trying to do a good deed and help animals and my neighbors are trying to shut me down because they don’t find it suitable for the neighborhood,” Williams said. “Had I known it was going to be this way, I would have never moved into the neighborhood.”
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