Small animals, specifically turtles, found some friends at Town Hall Tuesday afternoon.
A proposal to allow small-animal rehabilitation as a special permit use in the Hamlet Residential zoning district met with support during a public hearing Tuesday afternoon, and many of those who spoke are involved in wildlife rescues of their own.
The impetus for the change was Turtle Rescue of the Hamptons, located on Manor Lane in Jamesport.
That’s where Karen Testa, a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, has been working for more than seven years to bring injured and sick turtles back to health, assisted by a small volunteer staff.
In 2013, however, Riverhead Town issued a violation to the nonprofit group, saying it wasn’t permitted by zoning on that part of Manor Lane. Town Code currently allows small-animal rehab only on lots of at least 10 acres.
The proposal aired Tuesday would allow the use in the Hamlet Residential zone, and would apply to rabbits, squirrels, possums, and birds as well a turtles.
It also outlines nine conditions that must be met, including a completely enclosed rehab area of less than 750 square feet, no signage and no paid employees or staff. Other conditions require that the applicant be a state-licensed rehabilitator and that facility be closed to the public, charge no fees and dispose of all animal waste off-site at least twice per week.
Among those supporting the proposal were fellow animal rescuers Ginnie Frati of the Evelyn Alexander Wildlife Rescue Center in Hampton Bays, Terry Pratt of Stars in the Forest Wildlife Rehabilitation in Riverhead and Ken Zahler, who was once involved in Okeanos, a nonprofit sea animal rescue that later became the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation.
Ms. Frati said the need for animal rehab is greater now that development has caused animals to come into conflict with humans more often.
There were no speakers opposing the plan.
The Town Board held the public hearing open until July 28 for written comments only.
Photo caption: Karen Testa pictured in 2016. (Credit: Karl Grossman, file)