Roanoke County approves Wildlife Center expansion, but neighborhood tension remains high

Southwest Virginia Wildlife Center wins approval to build new bird aviary

ROANOKE COUNTY., Va. – A local clinic that cares for wild animals will be allowed to expand after all. The Southwest Virginia Wildlife Center of Roanoke and some of its neighbors are in the middle of a heated controversy over the expansion that has included numerous public hearings, votes and even a current lawsuit.

On Tuesday night, the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors voted in favor of the building plans, with some conditions. The discourse leading up to the vote proved yet again that there is a lot of bitterness between the two sides. While this is settled on paper for now, the relationship between those involved is still far from good, especially considering that the lawsuit brought against the county and the center by neighbors opposed to the project still stands. But animals lovers and those who support the center see the approval as a major victory.

The plans for a new raptor building, as it's known, are still just on paper, but with the new approval, the center can begin to move forward. The new project will provide space for injured birds to spread their winds and build muscle mass, which they cannot do in confined areas. While the vocal majority is for the project, there are a half-dozen who have made it known they're against it.

"I wish everyone could get along and I'm sorry for their being uncomfortable. I don't know what to do about the road," Southwest Virginia Wildlife Center Executive Director Sabrina Garvin said.

While arguments have wavered, the road leading to the landlocked property is what has remained the root of the problem. The road is technically an easement, unpaved, and crosses neighbors' properties from the end of Coleman Road. The neighbors have now said that enough is enough.

"It's the traffic. It's the volume of traffic, the speed of traffic. It's traffic. And they don't have hours that are 8 to 4. I have, on camera, at two o'clock in the morning, cars going to their center," neighbor Adrian Maver said.

Despite that, the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors conditionally approved the special use permit needed to expand. There are three conditions. First, the center must move the new building back from the property line. Second, the wildlife center must plant large trees at its own cost along selected property lines. Third, the center must make the new building look like a barn.

Both sides dispute claims that they've tried working together, with each blaming the other. County leaders on Tuesday night expressed their desire for the two sides to work together to find a way to the middle.

"If those offers (to work together) had been accepted and there was a true meeting of the minds there would have been an agreeable project for all parties involved," Supervisor Joe McNamara said.

But with a pending lawsuit, that may be hard to achieve. Some wildlife center supporters have disparaged concerned neighbors on social media. They've been especially critical of the Seymour family, who owns a local Bojangles franchise, and have threatened to boycott the business and complained to the corporate office. The two sides remain at odds over the project, and those against the center's expansion fear that what they say comes down to being the "mob" versus them.

"I don't have control (of what my supporters say,)" Garvin said. "We have noticed some unusual comments and things that were misquoted that we've tried to correct, (but) it's actually gotten to so many posts that we have not been able to keep up with it."

The wildlife center still has the lawsuit on its hands. Along with the county, it has until mid-October to respond to the suit. The Seymours and the Mavers and Creasys, who jointly own a property together, have sued the county and the wildlife center in civil court over the county's decision to decline to hear their appeal of the original zoning of the property, which they say should have never been issued in the first place.

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