Big cat rescue denied – Town Board votes against lion and tiger preserve.
By Christina Beam Capital Newspapers
ROCK SPRINGS-"Are you for or against the cats?" Jenny Meyer asked people entering the Excelsior Town Hall Tuesday night.
The hall was a buzz with arguably the biggest issue the town has seen in the last year: The rezoning of a three-acre "big cat preserve" from residential to recreation. Meyer, with her fiancï¿½ Jeff Kozlowski, have operated the preserve in Excelsior for a year and harbor 23 lions and tigers on the property.
The Town Board voted unanimously to deny the reclassification, but not after residents spent nearly two hours putting in their two cents on the big cats.
"These cats are not the wild and dangerous animals they are portrayed to be," said Joy Carroll, who leases her land to Kozlowski. "If lions or tigers injure people while in captivity, it’s because of human error."
Ten or 15 people at the public hearing spoke for or against the rezoning, which would have put the preserve in compliance with Sauk County zoning laws and in effect allowed it to stay. Kozlowski said he has a hearing with the county May 27 where he plans to appeal the town’s ruling.
"That facility as it exists now is an illegal facility," said town chair Robert Cassity. "It either has to be brought into compliance or the law has to change."
The big cat rescue center has been the topic of debate in Sauk County since December 2004, when Kozlowski owned two tigers and two African lion cubs at his home near Prairie du Sac. Since moving to Excelsior, Kozlowski has taken in 19 more abused or abandoned cats.
In December 2005, the county passed an ordinance requiring all large animal owners to comply with county zoning. The rescue center’s residential zoning does not allow for large cats, said Steve Sorenson of Sauk County Planning and Zoning.
Most of the people who spoke against the rezoning Tuesday were concerned about the safety of residents and livestock, but a few addressed the larger issue of the landscape of the town.
"If we start doing this it’s going to become spot zoningï¿½ it can’t be plopped down in the middle of a residential area," said Russ Hasenbalg. "What are these people going to have in their backyard next?"
Victoria Schultz said she doesn’t mind being in close proximity to the cats. "They have given me and my family something to look forward to and see every day," she said. "When you’re living in the city you don’t get to enjoy this."
Before the board voted, Cassity asked Junior Gurgel, who was sworn in to his first meeting on the board Tuesday, to abstain from voting because he lives near the rescue center.
"I feel that somewhere down the road there’s going to be a lawsuit and I want to keep the town as clean as I can," Cassity said. Gurgel said he didn’t have a financial interest in the vote’s turnout and chose to vote with the rest of the board against the rezoning.
Kozlowski indicated after the meeting that he plans to file a lawsuit against both the county and the town over their handling of the issue.
For the cats,
Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue
an Educational Sanctuary home
to more than 100 big cats
12802 Easy Street Tampa, FL 33625
813.493.4564 fax 885.4457
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