Fair Bluff, North Carolina: Planning Board considers new big cat sanctuary

[Video: WALB.com]

According to The Columbus County News Reporter, a proposed big cat wildlife sanctuary is a step closer to reality.

On Tuesday, March 26, 2018, the Fair Bluff Planning Board unanimously decided to recommend the town council’s approval to change the town’s zoning ordinance to permit animal sanctuaries as a conditional permitted use in the Highway Service Business zone.

The action came at the end of a 90-minute public hearing. Some concerns for safety were expressed by the planning board members, but Shazir “Shizzy” Haque, who hopes to locate the sanctuary on the former Fair Bluff Ford property on Main Street, was able to alleviate those concerns.

The next step in the process will come at the April 3rd commissioners meeting when the town’s governing body holds another public hearing on the matter and then considers the zoning board’s recommendation to adopt the change.

If, as expected, the town council approves the change, Haque will then have to apply for a conditional use permit to establish the sanctuary on the property. That application approval process would include submission of a site plan to the planning board, which could impose specific requirements regarding fencing and other matters before issuing a conditional use permit.

Fair Bluff Mayor Billy Hammond and planning board members Chairman Robbie Cutrell, George Perry, Chip Singletary, James B. Oliver and Cynthia Rorie, asked Haque several questions.

Singletary was especially concerned about the sanctuary having adequate fencing to both protect the public from the lions, tigers and other big cats that will be housed there, and to protect the animals from mischievous members of the public after hours. He also was concerned that a proposed 30-foot buffer between the outer fence and interior habitat fences would not be big enough.

Perry raised several questions about staff training, anticipated growth and general safety issues, while Hammond wondered about disposal of the remains of deceased animals and general security at the site.

Martin, who lives in Fair Bluff, former manager of the town’s visitor’s center before the flood, called the sanctuary a “great idea,” but expressed concerns about how animals would be transported to Fair Bluff. Haque assured him that the arrivals would come in secure cages and be sedated during transportation.

Sherman Axelberg said she was pleased that Haque emphasized that the sanctuary will be inspected annually by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and that no sanctuary regulated by USDA ever has had an escaped animal.

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