FAIR BLUFF, NC (WECT) - At its Monday night meeting, the Fair Bluff Planning Board unanimously approved plans for a wildcat sanctuary.
Town council approved Shizzy's Wildcat Rescue in April, and the sanctuary's owner, Shazir Haque, submitted plans to the planning board the same month.
Town leaders requested that Haque make some small changes to the site plans, like adding a parking lot and a food prep area for the animals.
Haque made those changes and presented them to the board Monday night. Plans also include eight animal habitats, a bird sanctuary, and a walking path for the site planned for 658 Main Street next to the Ford dealership.
A 10-foot tall fence, video cameras and drones will surround the site, Haque said, to protect the community and the animals. The site will also have two generators in case power goes out.
Sherman Axelberg lives one block from the sanctuary's site and said safety was one of her biggest concerns. She said after hearing all of the precautions Haque plans to take, she thinks the tourist attraction will revitalize the town she calls home.
"It was very outside the box, which is what we need," Axelberg said. "Fair Bluff is a jewel and people don't realize that and so our whole thing was, if we don't take advantage of this situation, somebody else is going to. They're looking for a place to put this and why should we not benefit from this? We're in the perfect location.
"I just feel like it can only be a positive thing, again, thinking outside the box. ... I think it will be wonderful and just grow our town in ways that we never imagined."
Servals, caracals, ocelots, bobcats, lynxes, lions and tigers will be the first animals allowed. According to Haque, phase one will start small before expanding to three phases overall. Each phase has to be approved by the planning board.
In regards to safety, Haque said he has worked with two other facilities similar to his planned sanctuary. Those establishments have been in business for years and haven't had any animals escape, Haque said. He modeled his plans after their sites.
Mayor Billy Hammond and Haque said they hope this is a launching point to revitalize the town.
"If we get people to come here, then they will want to spend money on other things as well," Haque said. "For example, preexisting businesses that already exist here, they want to be able to eat while they are here, and we will not have something on the property, and so therefore, they will go somewhere else in this area and spend money. ... We want them to do that and if we get big enough, we can lure other businesses into Columbus County and Fair Bluff because there's many vacant buildings in this area alone."
Now Haque will close on the property and get the deed, which he said will take about two weeks. He hopes to start construction by August, and the project is estimated to take about two years.