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Wildlife rescue center seeks North Fork location

11/29/2018 6:00 AM |

The Evelyn Alexander Wildlife Rescue Center in Hampton Bays is hoping to build a North Fork branch in Aquebogue, but that use is currently not permitted under Riverhead Town’s zoning code.

The nonprofit organization, located in a county park in Hampton Bays, provides rehabilitation for injured animals, birds and reptiles throughout the East End, and provides education to raise public awareness.

The center’s goal is to return rehabilitated animals to the wild, although some are too badly injured and cannot be returned to their habitats, according to Virginia Frati, the group’s executive director and founder, who said they treat about 200 injured animals per year.

The center was recently offered a 24-acre parcel on the south side of Main Road in Aquebogue, across from Tuthills Lane, for use as a rescue center.

The land is currently owned by Leslie Alexander, a philanthropist and former owner of the NBA’s Houston Rockets, who has been a supporter of the wildlife center in the past. The center is named for Mr. Alexander’s mother, and the North Fork site would be named for his father, Jack. 

But the Aquebogue property is zoned Rural Corridor on the north section, abutting Main Road, and residence RB-80 toward the south, a zone that allows minimum two-acre residential lots.

Neither of those zones specifically permits an animal rescue. 

“Wildlife rehabilitation is such a new field that it doesn’t fall under any uses in any zone in any towns, not just in Riverhead,” Ms. Frati said. 

The group’s Hampton Bays location avoided the zoning issue by leasing county parkland. But it’s running out of space, she said.

Riverhead Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith said that when the group first came to her, it wanted to use the entire 24 acres for animal rescue. The next time they met, and then the next time she saw them, they only wanted to put the rescue center in the Rural Corridor section and build houses on the rest. 

“And I haven’t heard from them again,” she said. “We need to know what they are asking for.”

Peter Danowski, the attorney for the wildlife rescue center, said he is asking town officials to simply add “wildlife rescue” as a permitted use in the RC zone, a change that would require a public hearing. 

The group currently plans only to use the RC area for the rescue center, he said, and, for now, will not be building any houses. But, he added, it doesn’t want to agree to not build on the residential land in the future. 

“In the future, we could borrow against value of that property,” he said. 

Mr. Danowski said other options could include subdividing the property so the different zones will be different parcels or seeking an interpretation from the Zoning Board of Appeals as to whether it conforms to Rural Corridor.

Permitted uses in the RC zoning category include agriculture, antique and craft stores, nurseries, museums, libraries, schools, places of worship, parks and playgrounds, among others.

Ms. Frati said they could fix up existing buildings for the rescue center and not need any new construction. The residential property is wooded and surrounded by farms. 

“It would be a good thing for the community and the environment,” she said.

“It will help us serve the North Fork and the Town of Riverhead more efficiently.”

Rescue center staff often visits schools and youth centers to show children some of the birds that were rescued but cannot be returned to the wild because of their injuries. 

These include a peregrine falcon, a red-tailed hawk, a great horned owl and a long-eared owl, which is not very common on the East End, Ms. Frati said. 

“It’s good for the public to see these animals. They can never be released,” she said. 

To date, the proposal has not come before the Town Board for discussion during a work session. 

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