The Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge is looking for a new home, and they have set their sights on a 2 acre piece of property in Holley that has been offered up as a donation.
The refuge, which rescues and rehabilitates a variety of animals in the Panhandle, has called Okaloosa Island home for approximately six of its nearly 23 years, but began searching for a new home this year.
The property being considered is located on Highway 87 and consists of three parcels, none of which have waterfront access. The property owner plans to donate the parcels to the refuge for construction of an educational center and wildlife rehabilitation hospital.
The new location would feature educational facilities as well as a new facility for their central mission: rescuing, rehabilitating and releasing sick, injured and orphaned wildlife throughout the Panhandle’s five counties.
That includes deer, raccoons, squirrels, shore birds and more. The group also performs marine rescues of animals such as manatees and turtles. Andersen said they treat about 2,000 animals per year.
The new location would mean the refuge could open their doors to the public at large for the first time.
To use the property for this purpose, it will have to be rezoned from R1 residential to P2 park district active. The P2 zoning allows for a variety of uses including soccer fields, public parks, yacht clubs, fishing piers, cemeteries and even zoos. It would also allow for a rehabilitation center either public or private.
A rezoning application has been submitted by the property owner who plans to donate the parcels to the refuge. Refuge Director Susan Leveille said she expects the application will be reviewed by the zoning board during their February meetings.
If approved by the zoning board, the rezoning would then go before the county commission for final approval.
Leveille said she feels optimistic.
“We think that Santa Rosa County would be really receptive to having a wildlife refuge so accessible to all Santa Rosa residents,” she said. “We are thrilled with the donation of land. This by far exceeds the expectations we had for a permanent home in a pristine natural location.”
The Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge is mostly staffed by volunteers and funded through a state grant and donations. For more information or to volunteer, call 850-650-1880.