WI board clears way for big cat facility’s new home
Village considers cats
By Brian Bridgeford
ROCK SPRINGS — By a slim, one-vote margin and with lots of questions unanswered, Rock Springs Village Board members agreed Monday to work toward annexing land for Jeff Kozlowski’s big cat refuge into the community.
Kozlowski appeared with his attorney, Jeff Scott Olson of Madison, to ask board members to annex a 10-acre chunk of land as a future home for his 22 lions, tigers and leopards. The property is across Highway 136 and a short hop west of the wire-mesh compound and chain-link fence cages where he currently keeps the animals he says have been abandoned or abused by prior owners.
Sauk County officials believe the refuge as it exists is not proper for land zoned for agricultural use and is not safe enough, Kozlowski said. County Public Health Board members gave Kozlowski until their September meeting to find a new home for his animals.
Nearly 50 people attended the meeting, speaking both for and against the refuge becoming part of the village.
Former Village President Dorothy Coens spoke in defense of the refuge and its animals. “There needs to be a place in the world for animals,” she said. “I do believe this has an educational purpose.”
Village resident Jim Mears said the refuge could bring visitors and income to the village. “I think it could be a big help to the stores and the bars — bring some money,” he said.
Many people said they fear people could be hurt while working at the refuge or if one of the big cats escape. Concerns about the cats roaring at night and additional traffic from visitors was also a concern.
Village Attorney James Gerlach advised board members the village’s zoning ordinance was written in 1945 and does not have proper rules for a wildlife refuge or park, he said. They would have to write new rules to cover a big cat refuge, Gerlach said.
Gerlach also observed that Kozlowski’s estimated construction cost of $140,000 does not include the cost of connecting to village sewer and water. “Do you want to have commercial bathrooms and a septic field in the village?” he said.
Trustee Duane Neises voted to begin working with the refuge to develop the rules for annexation, and was immediately supported by trustees Jamie Busser and Bob Mears. Village President Charles Kissack and trustees Robert Valek and Lisa Zautke voted against the resolution.
After initially abstaining, Trustee Edward Buck said he would vote to give Kozlowski a chance to do the refuge in a way that is good for the village. “I warn you, it will have to be 100 percent,” he said. “I represent this village.”
Afterwards Kozlowski and his attorney said they believe the Village Board action will convince the Public Health Board to give them the six to eight months needed to annex and build the new, safer refuge. Kozlowski said a new refuge could be ready by May.