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County to vote on refuge Monday

Posted on April 20, 2017 by Mat Pellegrino

The Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge is hoping that a vote at an upcoming Santa Rosa County commission meeting will help secure them a new home in Holley.
County commissioners are expected to give the non-profit the OK on Monday (April 24) to build on a 2.28-acre parcel in Holley on Cloptons Circle that was recently donated to them and re-zoned to allow them to build on the site.
The county must OK their site plans for re-zoning before the agency can move forward with building on the property and moving into their new home.
ECWR had hopes of getting the OK earlier this month from commissioners, but the decision was tabled due to an illness.
The non-profit has their sites set on erecting several buildings on the plot of land, which sits on East Bay. The buildings will go up in phases as the agency acquires funding.
Phase 1 includes a 2,000 sq. ft. rehab/medical facility. In Phase 2, ECWR has their sites set on building an education center, which will help educate visitors and local students on ECWR’s mission.
Finally, in Phase 3, the organization has plans to build rehabilitation pools for sea turtles and dolphins.
Last month, volunteers with ECWR met at the property and released seven rehabbed pelicans into East Bay. The agency rescues, rehabilitates and releases animals that have been injured in the wild or baby animals that have been abandoned by their mothers.
If the agency gets the OK from commissioners on Monday for the re-zoning and the site plans, they will move to their new digs in Holley from their current home ­­— the old Okaloosa Fire Station on Okaloosa Island — which they are currently leasing. Last month, the county zoning board members voted 5-4 to OK re-zoning the property from R-1 (Residential) to P-2 (Active Park or Recreation site). That vote still has to be approved by commissioners.
ECWR also has their sites set on selling the Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge Zoological Park in Crestview, which they also own. The agency took over the park years ago, but have plans to sell it to a new owner and consolidate the non-profit to one site.
ECWR President Bill Andersen told South Santa Rosa News back in March that the non-profit has financial backers ready to donate money to the agency if the county approves the site plans on Monday. The financial boost would help the agency move forward with some of its phases.
SSRN spoke to Andersen this week ahead of the commission meeting and asked him for his two cents on the upcoming vote.
“We think we have the support of our commissioners,” he said. “(Commissioner) Rob Williamson came and spoke at the NABOR (Navarre Area Board of Realtors) luncheon 3 weeks ago and he publicly came out in support of it…and we have tremendous support from the rest of the community. We have overwhelming community support and we are hoping for a positive outcome at Monday’s meeting.”
The agency also has a letter from NABOR and the Greater Navarre Area Chamber of Commerce favoring the ECWR move
Andersen said if the county OK’s the site plans on Monday, the agency is ready to pull the trigger on the rehab facility portion of the construction process and also said they will take on Phase 2 in the same breath.
“As a minimum, we want to get the rehab facility complete. And we also want to get the education/visitor’s center done as well,” Andersen said.
The ECWR President said 21 schools from around the area visited ECWR last year alone, and he’s hoping the move to Holley will help push those numbers up even further.
“Our hope is to have everything moved (to Holley) by the end of the year,” Andersen said.