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Seabird Sanctuary suspects aviary will be rejected

REDINGTON SHORES — It is not a sure thing that the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary will get final approval Wednesday for a new flight cage for hawks and other predatory birds.

The issue passed nearly unanimously when it was considered last month by the town's Planning and Zoning Board.

But Michelle Simoneau, spokeswoman for the sanctuary, said Friday that she had "heard on the street" that the Town Commission may reject the proposal, which requires a setback variance to town zoning and building codes.

"There is a good chance they are going to turn us down," she said.

The commission will debate the flight cage proposal at its meeting Wednesday, which begins at 7 p.m. at Town Hall, 17425 Gulf Blvd.

The sanctuary, which rescues up to 10,000 birds annually, opened in 1972 and is the largest nonprofit wild bird hospital and sanctuary in the country, Simoneau said.

Officials at the facility hope to build a 40- by 20-foot aviary that would allow recovering injured birds the space to strengthen their wings before being released back into the wild.

"This is so badly needed in Pinellas County," Simoneau said. "Now we have to ship out our birds to other facilities."

Simoneau said a sanctuary member has offered to pay the expected $25,000 to build the 12-foot-high aviary, which she said would be mostly netting supported by a wood frame.

Trees and other natural vegetation along the sanctuary's eastern boundary would be preserved, she said, to help screen the structure from neighboring properties.

Sanctuary supporters filled the commission chambers last month. Simoneau hopes they will again.

There was no opposition at that hearing, but one resident sent the town a letter objecting to the proposed flight cage.

Greg Sather, an Illinois resident whose property here abuts the sanctuary, praised the work it does rescuing birds but wrote that the facility often is not a "good neighbor."

He objected to a "bad smell" coming from many of the existing bird cages, blocking of his access to the beach during nesting season, and moldy sand stored on the street.

During last month's hearing, Planning and Zoning Board Chairman Bonnie Stein praised the organization's efforts to rescue injured birds but voted against the proposal, arguing that it violated the town's building codes.

Seabird Sanctuary suspects aviary will be rejected 01/09/10 [Last modified: Saturday, January 9, 2010 3:31am]
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