Shelter receives key approval for new $1.75 million facility

03/29/2013 8:00 AM |

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Kent Animal Shelter kennel attendant Erin McGrellis holds Walter, a 3-year-old French bulldog surrendered by his owner because he was picking on an older dog in the household. He’s now undergoing training to rid him of his bad habits.

Kent Animal Shelter’s plan to build a 10,000-square-foot facility to replace the aging structure on its River Road property in Calverton took a big step forward last Thursday, when the Riverhead Town Zoning Board of Appeals unanimously approved a series of variances needed for the project.

Kent Animal Shelter has been operating at its 2.1-acre River Road location since 1968, during which time it has gotten more than 30,000 animals adopted and has treated more than 60,000 dogs and cats through its spay/neuter program, said executive director Pamela Green.

The nonprofit animal rescue organization’s current facilities “are antiquated by any standard,” Chuck Bowman, vice president of Kent’s board of directors, said at last week’s ZBA hearing.

Mr. Bowman is also a land-use planner who is donating his services for the Kent project, Ms. Green later said.

Editorial: Two new animal shelter efforts need local support

“The shelter is 45 years old and the buildings are falling apart,” Ms. Green told the ZBA. “It really would be a shame if we couldn’t continue our services.”

Kent seeks to remove two old buildings near the river and build a 10,000-square-foot facility that would incorporate the functions of several current buildings into one, Ms. Green said. The new structure will have about 60 indoor dog runs and will be sound-proofed, so noise will not travel outside the building.

“The new building will be so much better for the animals and for the people,” Ms. Green said.

COURTESY DRAWING | A rendering of what the new Kent Animal Shelter will look like.

Kent expects the project to cost about $1.75 million. Kent’s funding comes entirely from private contributions, grants and bequests, Mr. Bowman said.

About three years into a capital campaign that launched in 2010, Kent has more than $400,000 on hand, with future fundraising events planned, Ms. Green.

Typically, such building projects are financed over several years.

The shelter still will need a special permit approval from the Town Board, site plan approval from the Planning Board, a hardship exemption from the state’s Central Pine Barrens Commission and sewage flow approvals from the county health department before it can begin construction on its long-held vision.

Those approvals are expected to take another six to nine months, shelter officials said.

Kent had at one time looked for land at another location to build its new shelter, but found that the town’s zoning doesn’t specifically permit animals shelters anywhere, which is why Kent will need a special permit from the Town Board.

“It’s very difficult to site one where you can actually keep all your neighbors happy,” Mr. Bowman said. “So with that, we decided we were going to stay in our existing, non-conforming site, which is on the Peconic River.”

Kent has already received state approval to build near the river, which is located within the boundaries of the state’s Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers Act, which limits development near New York rivers.

Kent plans to move the buildings further away from the river, upgrade its sanitary system and build a buffer between the buildings and the river, according to Mr. Bowman.

Kent also purchased a neighboring property to create more of a buffer between the shelter and neighboring properties.

The shelter handles spaying and neutering of animals for Riverhead Town and often takes animals from the town’s shelter and helps get them adopted, Ms. Green said.

Securing approval from the Pine Barrens Commission is expected to be the toughest hurdle facing the project.

At a Dec. 20 hearing before the commission, Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter and Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine, two of its five commissioners, voiced support for Kent.

“They are our de facto municipal shelter,” Mr. Walter said of Kent at the hearing.

But Richard Amper of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society criticized Mr. Walter’s comments and suggested it may be a conflict of interest for Mr. Walter to vote on Kent’s application.

“Kent providing great public service is entirely irrelevant to this application,” Mr. Amper said at the time, indicating that the commission’s vote should be based entirely on whether Kent meets the criteria for a Pine Barrens exemption.

The Long Island Pine Barrens Society is a nonprofit environmental organization and isn’t part of the Pine Barrens Commission, though Mr. Amper is vice president of the commission’s advisory committee and was instrumental in getting the state Pine Barrens Protection Act enacted in the early 1990s.

Those who’d like to contribute to the new shelter fund should contact Pam Green at 631-727-5731 or pamgreen@kentanimalshelter.com.

tgannon@timesreview.com