Woman plans parrot sanctuary in county

Monica VanPelt

Monica VanPelt

Several months ago, Monica VanPelt of Columbia brought home an Eclectus parrot — a bird that can live beyond 50 years — and instantly fell in love.

“She stole my heart,” VanPelt said. “I wanted a pet that wouldn’t die, so I got her.”

That led to the idea of building a parrot sanctuary that could house these birds in the event their owners die or can no longer take care of them. In July, VanPelt moved to Columbia and went to the Monroe County Planning Commission with her idea on Nov. 3.

“Because of their long life span, they need homes,” she said. “People don’t realize what they’re getting into, and they’re being bounced around from home to home.”

The commission voted 15-0 at that meeting to grant VanPelt a special use permit, with county building inspector Chris Voelker telling the Republic-Times that one person abstained because of the possibility the birds would make a lot of noise. The county zoning board of appeals will vote on the special use designation at its Nov. 30 meeting.

“They don’t make a lot of noise,” VanPelt explained. “(My parrot) only squawks when she’s upset about something,” she said. “Other than that, they only prefer to communicate by talking.”

If the zoning board approves the special use, the county board will need to cast its vote before VanPelt receives the green light. Monroe County Commissioner Bob Elmore said that would likely happen at the board’s Dec. 5 meeting.

“It has to go through the whole process,” Elmore said. “And then we could send it back again, which we’ve done before. We did that with (St. Joe’s tavern) over on Kaskaskia Road.”

Tracey Morris, who operates Fourth Street Bar in Waterloo and The Tavern in Maeystown, purchased the former St. Joe’s tavern with plans to renovate the property and open it as St. Joe’s Roadhouse Grill. The former tavern is zoned as agricultural and was previously allowed as an existing use.

Since the tavern closed years ago, Morris needed approval to change the zoning to commercial, which she ultimately was not granted. The planning commission shot down the zoning change, 8-6, in March.

If the votes swing in her favor, VanPelt said she hopes to start construction in the spring. She said an additional factor in planning out the construction includes raising the money to build the facility.

In estimation, VanPelt said construction will cost between $10,000 and $20,000. She established Parrot Isle as a non-profit and will have a website soon.

As for the design of the sanctuary, VanPelt said she plans to model a sanctuary in Virginia that uses greenhouse technology with aviaries. An aviary is an enclosure for keeping in birds. The greenhouse format, VanPelt said, gives birds enough space to roam.

“It allows the birds to fly free and be with other birds like them,” she said, adding the birds won’t feel the need to squawk given that kind of freedom.

In total, VanPelt said she wants to include four aviaries for four different species — three of which consist of the African grey parrot, Amazon parrot and Eclectus parrot. Each aviary would hold about 40 to 60 small to medium size birds, VanPelt said.

According to VanPelt, bird sanctuaries are becoming overcrowded, causing them to turn away birds needing a home and creating a need for a new sanctuary. For example, Foster Parrots out of Rockland, Mass., reported in 2013 accepting or finding a home for only one of every 10 birds needing placement. VanPelt said her sanctuary would most likely serve a midwest market.

“These birds are being rescued from all over,” she added.

In addition to serving as a place for birds whose owners die, the sanctuary will also take in rescues who would no longer make good pets. The sanctuary, for instance, will not serve as a place for someone to drop off their bird while on vacation.

The board of appeals meeting will take place at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 30 at the courthouse. The county board will meet at 8 a.m. Dec. 5 at the courthouse.

To donate to Parrot Isle or for more information, go to Facebook.com/parrotisle. VanPelt said contact information will become available later in the process.

“This is a place I would want my bird to be in when I’m not around anymore,” she said.

(Additional reporting provided by Corey Saathoff)

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