Game hunter Rick Warren speaks with Fox 7 about controversial 'Wildlife Gallery'

- "I started hunting with my dad when I was 7 or 8 years old.  When I turned 50 I took my first trip to...which was 8 years ago...I took my first trip to Africa.

 First time I'd ever taken a gun outside of Texas and it just cast a spell over me," Rick Warren told Fox 7 recently.

Warren has spent his retirement years from the oil and gas industry hunting all over the world.

"Been to Africa some 35 times.  Been to all 6 continents," he said.  

The UT alum wanted to bring the Africa experience back here to Austin in the form of the Warren Wildlife Gallery.  It's his collection of taxidermy.

"We have about -- between 350 and 400 mammals and about 500 birds," Warren said.  

And it's all in the middle of the Bouldin Creek neighborhood.  Warren said he likes the location and proximity to downtown.  He converted a community church that was there.

"We didn't know what he was doing when he bought it.  There was just sort of rumors going around, people would ask...largely from the workers who were working on the place," said Cory Walton, President of the Bouldin Creek Neighborhood Association.

Over the course of the years-long construction, Walton said they've seen an up-swelling of interested neighbors who have never been active in the association before.

"They're petitioning, you've seen the signs around the neighborhood.  They signed on to become members of the neighborhood association just so they could come vote against neighborhood support for this conditional use permit application," he said.

Warren and property manager Jessie Rammel have applied for a "conditional use permit" for cultural purposes.  They're hoping to invite school groups, Scout Troops and summer camps.

"What does that do to traffic in the neighborhood?  What does that do to other public uses?  Does that mean outdoor music, does it mean later hours?  Those are questions that we just don't know in terms of what his intent is," Walton said.  

"I just want to get them knowledgeable about the conservation role that hunting plays in saving animals.  I only hunt in places where the hunting is well-regulated," Warren said.  

Walton says the neighborhood recently voted against supporting the permit.  

He said the majority of those against the project are upset over the size and scale of it.  But there are some that have ideological differences with what Warren is doing.

"We have a couple of people that drive by and get some joy out of rolling their window down and yelling 'killer, murderer' out their window," Warren said.

The City of Austin confirms they have Warren's paperwork for the permit.  After the site plan is submitted the decision will be in the hands of the planning commission

"Whether the use is reigned in with more respect to the real residents around him, I really don't have a picture of what that will look like," Walton said.  

"The gallery is not going away.  The gallery is here, it's on private property.  The only thing that would go away is the ability to share the facility for educational tours to children and community groups," said Warren's urban planner Stephen Rye.

Warren said he does apologize to the neighborhood for how long the construction has taken.

He's putting a parking lot next door where a duplex stands now.  
 

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