County OKs primate sanctuary’s expansion


Published: Tuesday, June 10, 2014 at 7:54 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, June 10, 2014 at 7:54 p.m.

After deferring its decision in May to iron out some issues, the Alachua County Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a local primate sanctuary’s request for a special exception allowing for its planned expansion.

Jungle Friends Primate Sanctuary houses New World monkeys from Central and South America just off State Road 121 north of Gainesville. It’s been based in Gainesville for over a decade and is now home to more than 160 monkeys ranging from capuchins to marmosets.

The special exception the commission approved Tuesday permits the expansion of the property from 12 acres to 39 acres and eliminated a 120-primate limit that the sanctuary already exceeds, which was included in a prior special-use permit the county issued years ago.

Now the county is pre-empted from regulating how many primates a sanctuary can have thanks to a change in state statute.

The sanctuary plans to house another 175 research monkeys from various universities, 144 of which are critically endangered cotton-top tamarins that typically weigh around half a pound.

Jungle Friends’ request for a special exception has been controversial. The county received numerous letters on the issue, some of which came from nearby residents who opposed the proposal while others were written by staff members and supporters of the sanctuary asking for approval.

“We’re sometimes called upon to referee situations like this between neighbors,” Commissioner Mike Byerly said Tuesday.

Byerly said he takes nuisance-type complaints seriously but said he was struck by the fact that there has been neither a single noise or odor complaint nor a single escape in all the years Jungle Friends has been there.

The County Commission deferred the matter at a meeting in May to give its staff time to work out some issues involving the special exception’s conditions, including how large the setbacks would be.

Jungle Friends staff were concerned the proposed buffers and setbacks would significantly reduce the amount of developable area on the property.

County staff came back before the board Tuesday with amended conditions that reduced the buffer requirement from a 25-foot-wide medium-density buffer to a 15-foot-wide low-density buffer. They also shortened the setback from 100 feet to 50 feet.

The commission approved those conditions but made an exception for a few nearby residents who wanted a larger setback by their properties and also waived a buffer requirement for another parcel.

Another problem that came up during the May meeting was whether or not the sanctuary should be required to move the marmosets and tamarins out of the wetland areas where they live in enclosures, which a Jungle Friends veterinary technician said would be a death sentence for the little monkeys.

The county amended its conditions to allow everything already located in the wetlands and wetlands buffers on the property to remain there but prohibit any future development in those areas.

Commissioner Susan Baird said Tuesday she was concerned about the number of monkeys on the property and questioned how many monkeys would qualify as too many monkeys.

Senior Planner Jerry Brewington said there’s no way to say, for example, that 400 monkeys is good but 500 monkeys is bad. County staff can assess the impacts based on noise and odor, though, he said.

The sanctuary’s potential impact on local property values also came up during Tuesday’s meeting, but Growth Management Director Steve Lachnicht said that to his knowledge there has been no evidence showing an impact to property values due to Jungle Friends’ location.

Contact Morgan Watkins at 338-3104 or morgan.watkins@gainesville.com.

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