By Tim Damos
ROCK SPRINGS – Village Board members voted Monday night to approve a conditional-use permit for the establishment of a lion and tiger refuge on the south edge of the village.
The Wisconsin Big Cats Rescue and Education Center is currently located east of the village on Highway 136, but is under a court order to remove its 24 animals from that property after a judge ruled the center was in violation of county zoning and health ordinances.
Before approving the permit Monday night, a 5-2 majority of the board approved an ordinance establishing guidelines for conditional-use permits.
Upon concerns raised by trustee Robert Valek, the ordinance was amended to be more specific about areas that must be considered by the village when considering a conditional-use permit.
Valek and trustee Jamie Busser voted against adopting the ordinance.
The board then discussed the application for a conditional-use permit submitted by the refuge, which included more than 40 conditions established by the village.
Valek again raised concerns, leading to amendments to certain conditions.
Valek and Busser both voted against issuing the permit, along with trustee Lisa Zautke, who said more details of the permit needed to be hashed out.
An ad hoc committee now will oversee the generation of a village permit allowing for the establishment of the refuge.
Village president Harlan Behnke, who was previously the president of the refuge, voted for both the ordinance and the permit. He said the village’s attorney had advised him that he had the right to vote as long as there was no potential for him to gain financially from the vote. He said there was not.
The vote to approve the permit for the refuge passed 4-3.