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Despite ruling, Roanoke County wildlife center expects lawsuit to continue

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The great horned owl was released at Pandapas Pond in September after rehabilitation by the Southwest Virginia Wildlife Center of Roanoke.

Southwest Virginia Wildlife Center of Roanoke won another victory this week in a prolonged legal dispute when a judge decided neighbors lack standing to sue against new construction at the animal rehabilitation facility.

“It’s a win for us, but we fully expect this will be continued in higher court,” said SVWC Executive Director Sabrina Garvin. “We can enjoy the couple days until they file the paperwork, then it’s back to court.”

Plans are grounded to build an aviary for recovering raptors, pending the resolution of lawsuits from four neighbors accounting for three parcels that share a driveway with the wildlife center at the end of Coleman Road in Roanoke County.

“We would just like it to end so we can focus on rehabbing the wildlife,” Garvin said. “Each time it goes to court, it costs money to the center, and Roanoke County.”

Progress building a large cage for ailing raptors to stretch their wings has not advanced since 2018, when Roanoke County’s Board of Supervisors permitted construction as a special use, an action that preceded the ongoing neighborly legal disputes.

Most recently, the suing neighbors submitted a revised complaint after their second attempted lawsuit was denied standing by a judge in November .

As with their past disputes, Garvin said the neighbors’ revised complaint is pointless, and an opinion issued Wednesday by Roanoke County Circuit Judge Charlie Dorsey seems to concur.

“The court finds that petitioners have yet again failed to establish a particularized harm,” Dorsey wrote. “Simply put, the amended complaint fails to adequately plead a sufficient harm.”

In his analysis, Dorsey said the neighbors failed to identify how traffic on the dead-end street will be affected by the board’s approval of construction at the wildlife center.

The neighbors have 30 days to make a last-chance appeal of Dorsey’s decision to the Supreme Court of Virginia, and Garvin said an appeal is expected.

Attorneys for the petitioners were not immediately available for comment on Friday.

The legal obstacles have been only part of the challenge, Garvin said.

Garvin said speed bumps have been put up on Coleman Road. She has video of a person in silhouette cutting open cages sheltering recovering squirrels, but the footage did not capture any identifying features.

“It’s sad, and it’s getting old,” Garvin said.

Until the litigation is settled and an aviary is constructed, many large birds coming to SVWC cannot be cared for.

“It causes us to have to move birds two hours away,” Garvin said. “With the last year of COVID, all the rehabs are extremely full. Everything is backed up.”

As for seeking a more neighborly way to settle the issue outside of court, Garvin said such efforts prior to the coronavirus were unsuccessful.

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Luke Weir covers higher education and state government. He can be reached at (540) 566-8917 or

Related to this story

A copy of the opinion by Roanoke County Circuit Judge Charlie Dorsey regarding a special use permit approved for Southwest Virginia Wildlife C…

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