- By Nancy Flores American-Statesman Staff
A South Austin wildlife gallery on Wednesday filed for a conditional use permit despite opposition from the Bouldin Creek Neighborhood Association, which voted the night before to reject supporting the permit.
The conditional use permit would allow the public more access to the Warren Wildlife Gallery owned by outdoor sportsman Rick Warren. The private gallery and residence, which was built on the site of a former church, displays a taxidermy collection featuring hundreds of birds and mammals.
The association, concerned about potential commercial use of the property, included in its motion Tuesday night a plan to request that the city require Warren to abide by the property’s SF-3 residential zoning. A conditional use permit, allowed under residential zoning, would qualify the gallery as a cultural service. Warren property representatives have said the permit would help the gallery offer educational tours for students as well as raise awareness about sustainable hunting.
Although Stephen Rye, an urban planner hired by Warren to oversee the conditional use permit process, presented Warren’s plans to residents Tuesday at a neighborhood association meeting and responded to some of their concerns regarding parking, noise, traffic and potential tax exemptions, not all the residents were satisfied with the answers.
Piper Becker, who voted to oppose the permit, said she’s concerned about Warren potentially making purchase offers to her neighbors and losing Bouldin Creek’s sense of community. Warren has bought four residences surrounding the gallery. One of those properties has been designated as part of the main gallery site for on-site parking, but the three other properties, Rye said, will be investment rental properties.
“He’s taking away what the neighborhood is all about,” Becker said.
Council Member Kathie Tovo, whose district includes the Bouldin Creek neighborhood, answered questions about the city’s permit process at the meeting. Tovo said she first learned about the wildlife gallery’s construction in 2015 and said she and her staff have toured the site after hearing concerns from her constituents.
She’s also had the opportunity to hear from the property’s representatives. “I feel firmly that this use isn’t compatible in a residential area,” Tovo said Wednesday. “The impact it’ll have on the residents is just too great.”
“We understand we don’t have a lot of support,” Rye said at Tuesday night’s meeting. “But we’re trying to be collaborative and inclusive of this process.”
Opposition for the wildlife gallery had been growing in recent weeks with the launch of an online petition that has more than 900 signatures and with yard signs that began peppering the neighborhood opposing Warren and his property manager, Jesse Ramel.
“Although the Bouldin Creek Neighborhood Association has yet to engage us on how we may address their concerns, we will continue to reach out to the organization in hopes that we can collaborate on a mutually successful resolution,” Rye said in an email.
At the meeting, Bouldin Creek Neighborhood Association President Cory Walton said “it was loud and clear (from our membership) that there was no interest in negotiating on the conditional use permit proposal.”
Walton said the association will continue to monitor the permit process and evaluate the best way to move forward.
Conditional use permit applications undergo a city review process before heading to the Planning Commission.