tampabay.com

Neighbors wary of Big Cat's expansion plans

By JACKIE RIPLEY
Published February 17, 2006


CITRUS PARK - Big Cat Rescue has been around for 12 years and it has gotten high praise from within the ranks of the animal protection community. But its rating within its own community has been less than stellar.

People who live near the sanctuary are looking cautiously at the latest in a series of expansion plans that would create more parking, living quarters for caretakers, and a secondary entrance to the complex.

The neighbor most affected is Jean Carson, owner of the narrow, private Easy Street that leads to the complex. Carson was among several Citrus Park homeowners who discussed the plan Tuesday night before a Hillsborough County zoning hearing master.

"We are absolutely, totally covered up with it," said Carson, who opposes the rezoning. "We have tour buses, school buses, FedEx, UPS. We have multitudes of cars all hours of the day and night with those lights in our windows at 2 or 3 in the morning."

Big Cat, off Citrus Park Drive across from the mall, is home to a variety of exotic felines including lions and tigers from zoos, circuses and private owners. Its owners want to rezone 3 acres next to the sanctuary for homes, parking and an alternate entrance road.

The plan includes six homes for interns and caretakers. The proposed new access would be on N Meadowview Circle, a residential street south of Easy Street and east of Sheldon Road.

"I support the attempt to get cross access," said Leslie Horton, who lives on Beatty Grove in Citrus Park. Meadowview is "a county-owned and operated road that can take the traffic."

But Carson said she was not convinced that people coming and going from the sanctuary would use the alternate route and that it might create even more congestion on the beleaguered Easy Street. County staffers and the planning commission sided with Carson, but for slightly different reasons. They said they could not support the project, mainly because it would create more traffic on N Meadowview Circle, a primarily residential road.

"What are we, chopped liver?" Carson asked.

Two years ago the county allowed the sanctuary to quadruple the building space on its 42 acres despite complaints from neighbors, who said it would put too much traffic on their street.

At that time commissioners approved a rezoning request that, over time, will allow the sanctuary to add a museum, a gift shop, a snack bar, an office, a clinic, educational classrooms and additional residences for caretakers.

The zoning hearing master will make his recommendation within 15 days. Hillsborough County commissioners will have the final say on Big Cat's proposal.

Jackie Ripley can be reached at ripley@sptimes.com or at 813 269-5308.