Bird-lovers help keep parrot shelter open
By: Irv Leavitt | email@example.com | @IrvLeavitt
A parrot shelter housed in a home in unincorporated Northbrook, threatened by a lack of legal underpinning for its existence, seems on more solid footing after agreements made during a Sept. 25 public hearing.
Richard and Karen Weiner, owners of Refuge for Saving the Wildlife, on the 1600 block of Central Avenue, made several concessions at the request of Kevin Freeman, acting chairman of the Cook County Zoning Board of Appeals. The Board is expected to make a recommendation on their application for a special use permit as early as its Oct. 28 meeting, with no additional public comment.
The hearing was convened to air the Weiners’ application for a county special use permit to allow keeping the birds, though some members questioned whether the permit was actually necessary. No ordinance directly addresses the Weiners’ operation.
The zoning board is a recommending body, and its decision will be sent to the Cook County Board for a vote.
The application was made after complaints about the home-based operation resulted in five citations, involving general storage of garbage and having more than three pets in a home. Those citations were frozen pending the application.
Richard Weiner, a Glencoe Public Safety lieutenant, agreed to confine the number of birds in the house to 80, and reduce the number of backyard cages from three to one. Only one outdoor cage holds an animal, a red-tailed hawk.
They had already hidden trash receptacles within heavy plastic enclosures.
They also agreed to park their cars inside their garage, instead of on their driveway, in case volunteers or visitors needed some of the six driveway spots.
The small Loop hearing room overflowed with fans of the parrot rescue, but only one neighborhood resident, a next-door neighbor, spoke in favor of the application.
Three residents living on the block opposed it.
The testimony from the opposing sides seemed to come from two different worlds.
Those who have been won over by the Refuge were glowing in their praise, while four neighbors said the refuge was ruining their neighborhood.
Several experts, including appraiser Ronald Brandt, said that there were no outward signs that more than 50 parrots were living inside Weiner’s house.
“You couldn’t hear them outside the house unless you put your ear up against (the door),” Brandt said.
“The home was typical of the neighborhood.”
Next-door neighbor Anne Pfeifer: “I don’t know how anyone would know that there are birds in there. The house is immaculate inside, and the outside is beautifully manicured.”
Attorney Susann MacLachan, called in by the Animal Legal Defense Fund when word got out about citations, said the home, and its circa 2009 parrot shelter expansion, “was spotless ... and the birds were extremely attached to Mrs. Weiner – who was there at the time – which is a very good sign.”
MacLachan said once she left the house, there were no audible bird sounds.
Local bird expert Pete Sakas, DVM, of the Niles Animal Hospital, testified that there was no place else in northern Illinois so capable of taking in unwanted parrots and similar birds as the Weiners’ refuge, which has been operating for about 17 years. He said that the disease testing, quarantines and adoption standards demanded by the operation were unmatched.
Weiner testified that he has numerous state and federal licenses for the shelter work, including for administering drugs. He said that when the house was expanded for the two parrot rooms, County inspectors were aware of the usage, and of the presence of the parrots.
After more than an hour of such testimony by the Weiners and their admirers, Ric Warchol, who lives two doors down, told the panel that “what they’re doing is wonderful, but it doesn’t belong in a residential neighborhood.”
He said the shelter attracted too much traffic and parking, and he could hear the birds. He said the shelter should be closed down.
He handed in 60 petition signatures against the Weiners’ application, but the way he got them was questioned by Freeman and fellow Board member Darryl Holmes.
Their problem with Warchol were the letters he sent throughout the neighborhood – marked in capital letters, “Urgent – save your homes (sic) value” – which maintained that the Weiners were seeking a zoning change.
Such a change would impact the entire neighborhood, they said, unlike a special use, which just affects their home as long as they own it.
“When you say ‘rezone,’ that means something much more permanent,” Freeman said.
“Some people who are here may have been misled if they read that.”
Warchol – owner or part-owner of Judy’s Mailing Service in Northbrook and Jimmy’s Charhouse in Riverwoods – several times said that he never complained about the traffic or the (now-removed) Dumpster until recently, because until the last year or so, there had “only been about 10 birds.”
But Freeman asked for the concessions, as he heard a handful of neighbors complain.
The traffic was so disturbing, Margaret Osadzinski said, “That it feels like a garage sale every week.”
She added, “Strangers around our house make me uncomfortable.”
Warchol said that the Weiners should move the shelter to a commercial area, but Richard Weiner said that would cost $3,700 per month. He said he’d already spent $33,000 unexpectedly to respond to complaints Warchol made about his shelter.
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