Big cat sanctuary clears last zoning hurdle in Fair Bluff

Shizzy’s Wildcat Rescue cleared its final zoning hurdle Monday night as the Fair Bluff Planning Board unanimously approved, with one member abstaining from voting, a site plan for the venture, which will be located on the former Fair Bluff Ford auto dealership property.

That means the property, currently owned by Fair Bluff Motors, Inc., will be deeded – probably in a few days –  to either the Columbus Jobs Foundation or directly to Shazir Haque, who is establishing the non-profit wildlife sanctuary.

Planning board member Carl Meares Jr. abstained from voting on the matter because he, along with Willard and David Small, is one of the owners of the property.

Original plans were for the property to be donated to the Columbus Jobs Foundation with the Jobs Foundation then deeding the property to the refuge, but Meares said Monday that attorneys still are working out the details of how the actual transfer will work and there’s a chance it will be transferred directly to Haque.

Haque said the sanctuary, which initially will employ 7-10 workers and utilize dozens of volunteers, will be open within two years. It will house big cats, such as lions, tigers and bears, as well as smaller species and some birds.

In other business, the planning board deferred a decision on a request by Ben Cooper to approve a gaming center in a former auto parts store building at 911 Main Street because Cooper did not show up for the meeting. According to the town’s zoning ordinance, whenever the usage of a commercial property changes, the operator of the business must get planning board approval. Cooper wants to open a 20-machine center featuring “games of skill” in the former parts store.

Concerned because Cooper didn’t attend the meeting after having said he would be there, board members agreed to defer a decision until the applicant could be present at a later meeting, which will be scheduled for the future. The Fair Bluff planning board doesn’t convene on a regular schedule and, instead, meets on an “as-needed” basis.