The Ocean View Board of Adjustment voted this week to defer its decision on an application requesting a special exception that would allow for a wildlife-learning center in a General Business-1 parcel in town.
Barn Hill Preserve co-owners Josh Mueller and Gabe Ligon spoke on behalf of the application, stating they wanted to open an education center at 23 Atlantic Avenue.
“Our primary goal over the past six years has been education. We have educated over two million students,” said Ligon. “We travel all over the states with some of our ambassador animals, educating students.”
In a packet presented to the board, the types of animals proposed for the facility include a red kangaroo, common parakeet, tayra (weasel), Eurasian lynx, Asian small-clawed otters, sulcata tortoise, Patagonian cavies and the Linneaus’ two-toed sloth.
Ligon said the largest animals that would be on the property would be the red kangaroo (not at full-grown size) or the lynx.
For safety and security, according to Barn Hill, each animal enclosure will have an airlock-style entry system (without literally locking out air) that consists of two doors, walls on all sides and a roof. There will also be an additional barrier fence 3 feet from all animal enclosures, and all enclosures will be secured with a lock with keys only accessible to the animal keepers.
There would also be a 6- to 8-foot fence surrounding the property.
In case of inclement weather, each enclosure would have a lockdown house, to provide shelter to the animals.
Ligon said the facility would be regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and its Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service.
“We have federal veterinarians that inspect us on a month to month basis.”
As proposed, the property would also house a “small overnight room” to ensure staff would be on premises at all times. There will be an alarm system and security cameras installed as well.
As for sanitation, Ligon and Mueller said that food dishes would be cleaned twice a day, cages would be spot-cleaned and all concrete would be scrubbed.
“We’ll dispose all of the waste off-site,” said Mueller, noting it would be taken out of town for disposal.
Town Solicitor Dennis Schrader asked what plan was in place if an animal were to escape.
Ligon said the preserve would set up a contingency plan with local law-enforcement, also noting that members of staff can legally keep anesthetics on hand for such an incident.
“We’ve never had to do that, but we do have it on hand.”
Mueller said that, if all is approved, Barn Hill hopes to open the site next year, with tours beginning at 7 a.m., and the last one starting at 7 p.m. A maximum of 15 guests would be allowed on a tour, which would take place every 45 minutes, with tours lasting 45 to 90 minutes. While prices haven’t yet been set, Mueller said admission could range from $30 to $50 per person.
“The goal would be to open up from Memorial Day to Labor Day,” he said, adding that there would be shorter hours of operation in the fall and spring, with the facility closed from November through February.
“We offer such an intimate and educational atmosphere, it’s something people want to bring their friends and family back to,” added Ligon. “The Town of Ocean View and the location we found is one of the best locations we could have.”
When asked why they wanted to bring Barn Hill to Ocean View, Mueller responded that he was born and raised in Bethany.
“Growing up here, there aren’t a lot of opportunities to work with animals, to experience different types of animals. I think it is an extremely important thing that we need to bring to the community. The closest one — you’re going to have to go to Salisbury… or there are some smaller ones if you go north,” he said.
“Educate the children about conservation and wildlife. I have a passion for wildlife, and I want to share my passion with the people I grew up with.”
During the public comment portion of the hearing, Ron Galey, president of the Savannah’s Landing homeowners group, said the Board of Directors of the development unanimously opposes the application, citing concerns that it would cause an increase in traffic congestion, about its impact on the environment and about the treatment of the animals.
“It’s a zoo, it’s what it is,” said Galey. “We’re really concerned about our property values… We don’t want it.”
Dan Dalina of Savannah’s Landing said there should be consideration for the outdoor dining areas of neighboring restaurants.
Connie Marshall, who has owned Wild about Birds on a nearby parcel for 22 years, said she was “adamantly opposed” to the application.
“Although I believe in theory this is a fabulous concept, I’m also of the mind that this location is less than ideal for this endeavor,” she said.
Marshall said she had been approached and given the impression the facility was to be similar to the Bethany Beach Nature Center, where animals would be brought in and out for educational outreach programs.
Marshall said she has concerns regarding odor, and while manure can be removed from the premises, she said the animals’ liquid output cannot.
“You cannot remove urine. Once that comes out, it’s in the ground, unless you’re going to be putting something down to remove that. It’s there, and you have to worry about the runoff as well,” she said.
Marshall, who also wrote a letter of opposition to the application, said she has concerns as to how the facility would impact her property value.
Following public comment, the record was closed on the application. No additional comments or documents may be considered in the Board’s decision. The board voted 3-1 to defer a decision that night, with Board Member Gene Brendel opposed.
The application is expected to return before the board at its June 21 meeting.
By Maria Counts