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Regulations derail plans for wildlife center

Terri Petter, pictured in 2006 with two of her wolves, still has plans to expand Wolves, Woods and Wildlife, her wildlife education center, but she has had to scale things back.

Terri Petter's grand plans for a restaurant and wildlife education center in Empire Township appear to be going the way of the dodo.

Petter founded Wolves Woods and Wildlife in 2006 with the goal of teaching people about wild animals of all kinds. Her plan even then was to eventually expand into the building until recently occupied by Oak and Treasures, the Highway 50 furniture store owned by her mother, Eunice. She wanted a place where people could get up close with wildlife as the Farmington area becomes more suburban and less rural.

Petter's plans appeared to be moving forward even as recently as this spring, and they were more ambitious than they'd ever been. She announced plans to open a bar and grill-style restaurant called The Habitat in at least part of the former furniture store. She planned animal enclosures all around the building. With Oak and Treasures selling off the last of its merchandise, she was ready to get in and start building this summer.

Now it doesn't appear that will happen. Petter said this week the permits required of her by the Empire Town Board are too restrictive to allow her to proceed.

"We tried to do The Habitat and Empire Township came back with more than $1 million in conditions beyond what we were thinking," Petter said.

That shut down her plans for the site, both now and for the future. On June 26 the land, the building and another home on the site will be auctioned off.

Petter said the town board wanted her to put in a 307-stall parking lot when she made the conversion to her restaurant and wildlife center. That's more than Petter figured she'd ever need, but she said town board members wanted to be prepared for future expansion.

"They basically wanted me to be run like a roadhouse or a steak house," Petter said.

Petter would have been required to install a turn lane outside the building and to add fire sprinklers inside. She also would have needed township permission to cut down any trees on the property.

"We planted those trees," she said.

Petter called the situation frustrating, but being forced to abandon her plans for the property could also allow her to return to the smaller plan she had back in 2006 for a simple wildlife education center.

Petter said she plans to expand operations at her current home base at 235th Street and Dodd Boulevard in Eureka Township. She's given private tours there for several years.

"We're kind of going back to our roots. Back to where I wanted to be and back to what Wolves, Woods and Wildlife was set out to be," Petter said.

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

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