12/21/12 1:00pm
12/21/2012 1:00 PM

TIM GANNON FILE PHOTO | Rex Farr looks over the land he plans to lease to the North Fork Animal Welfare League in Calverton. He and his wife run an animal rescue operation on his farm.

The Riverhead Zoning Board of Appeals voted 4-0 Thursday night to reopen a public hearing on the North Fork Animal Welfare League’s plan to build a 1,638-square-foot cat shelter on four acres on Youngs Avenue in Calverton.

The hearing was then adjourned until the Thursday, Jan. 24 ZBA meeting, when it will resume.

The ZBA had held a hearing on the proposal Nov. 8 and there were no speakers in opposition. At the time, ZBA members said they saw no problem with the plan and would approve it at their Dec. 13 meeting, which was later moved to Dec. 20.

The hearing was then closed for further comments.

But neighbors, who read about the hearing in the News-Review — along with a headline saying there was no opposition— said they were not properly notified about the hearing, and that they were, in fact, opposed to the idea.

Neighbors also said the hearing came just eight days after superstorm Sandy, and that many people still were without power on Nov. 8, or waiting on gas lines.

“It’s obvious that the intent of town law is to afford all interested parties a right to their voice being heard,” said David Moran, an attorney representing the neighbors, in a letter to the ZBA.

At least 30 people from the neighboring areas attended the hearing, but only Mr. Moran also addressed the ZBA Thursday night.

“I’m not sure that I agree with many of the points raised,” Scott DeSimone, the ZBA’s attorney, responded, but he acknowledged that there was a defect in the mailing of notices of the Nov. 8 hearing, in that two properties that should have received notices did not.

Because of this, he urged the ZBA to reopen the hearing.

Afterwards, Mr. Moran spoke to neighbors in the hallway outside the ZBA meeting.

“What you were just able to witness, if you’ve never seen it before, is I like to call political cover,” Mr. Moran told the neighbors. “They’re never going to admit that they were wrong. They are going to admit that they fixed the problem.”

A number of neighbors spoke at a Dec. 4 Town Board meeting, saying the notices they were given were not clear as to what was being proposed.

The residents said there is a dangerous “s” curve on that section of street already, and that they objected to having a commercial operation in a residential area. They also said that the hearing took place shortly after Sandy, and many people still didn’t have their power back.

Supervisor Sean Walter told the group he would ask the ZBA to reopen the hearing.

Neighbors subsequently submitted 114 form letters in opposition to the cat shelter, saying they feared it would “change the character” of their community.

Peter Danowski, the North Fork Animal Welfare League’s attorney, said at Thursday’s meeting, “I might take issue with some of the comments,” made by Mr. Moran, although he did not get specific. Mr. Danowski pointed out that the proposal is not for a town animal shelter.

“This is housing for cats,” he said.

The Welfare League is planning to lease four acres of vacant land from Rex and Connie Farr for a dollar a year for 99 years and build a 1,638-square-foot cat shelter, which would only occupy about an acre, according to its executive director Gillian Wood Pultz.

Welfare League officials plan to catch stray cats, spay and neuter them, and either release them or put them up for adoption, Ms. Pultz said in an interview last month.

“The cat population in Riverhead is out of control,” she said.

The Southold-based nonprofit, which has run the Southold shelter since 1980, did agree this week to run Riverhead’s dog shelter — which does not house cats — under contract.

The cat shelter would not be run under contract with the town.

tgannon@timesreview.com

11/30/12 8:00am
11/30/2012 8:00 AM

TIM GANNON FILE PHOTO | Farmer Rex Farr looks over the land he plans to lease to the North Fork Animal Welfare League in Calverton. He and his wife already run an animal rescue operation.

Weeks after a public hearing on a plan to build a cat spay and neuter clinic in Calverton went off with little fanfare, some neighbors to the proposed shelter are now speaking out.

The neighbors are raising concerns that the North Fork Animal Welfare League’s planned clinic would lower property values and increase traffic in the area.

The proposed clinic would be located on four acres on the south side of Youngs Avenue, just down the road from the town’s animal shelter, which would be leased out by resident Rex Farr who also runs an animal rescue operation on his land.

The Riverhead Zoning Board of Appeals hearing, held on Nov. 8, was on the issue of whether or not an animal shelter was a permitted use in the agricultural protection zone in which the property is located.

The town code doesn’t specifically list that use.

Peter Danowski, the attorney on the application, and 10 supporters attended the meeting. Mr. Danowski was the only one to speak, and said the character of Youngs Avenue wouldn’t be altered by the spay and neuter clinic because there’s already a dog shelter there and a landfill.

At the time, board members expressed support for the plan. But in the past few weeks, neighbors around the property have sent letters complaining of the plan to Town Hall, urging the ZBA not to grant the application.

Matt Governali, who lives a few hundred feet away from the proposed clinic, said he and his neighbors don’t oppose the idea of an animal shelter.

What they oppose is the location.

“A cat shelter’s not a bad thing, it just doesn’t belong on that end of the street,” Mr. Governali said. “It becomes Kent [Animal Shelter]. Kent’s a great place, but there’s a lot of traffic that goes in and out of there.”

Mr. Governali said that while there is the town dog shelter, the town’s landfill and Crowne Sanitation operations just down the road, the garbage trucks are not allowed to travel down the residential side of Youngs Avenue.

He said he was not notified of the public hearing, and neither were many of his neighbors.

“A good amount of the residents had no idea what was going on,” he said.

Town code states that for ZBA hearings, all landowners whose properties are adjacent to, or across the street from an applicant’s land must be notified by certified letter about the hearing.

Mr. Governali lives across the street from the property adjacent to the proposed clinic, so he was not notified by the town.

His wife, Adrienne, said she was shocked to read News-Review reports about the public hearing, having not heard it was going to happen.

“None of us knew,” she said. “There goes our property value in our neighborhood. It’s going to affect my property value. It’s ridiculous.”

Eric Reichenbach, who lives adjacent to the proposed clinic, said he got the letter, but said the letter was not clear about what the hearing concerned. He did not attend the meeting.

“In hindsight, we all should have been going [to the hearing],” he said.

Now the group of neighbors is sending letters to try to reopen the written comment section of the hearing, which has since closed, so they can have their concerns on the record.

“We’ve sent letters to everybody, to zoning board to the town clerk detailing our concerns and it seems like that’s fallen by the wayside,” Mr. Reichenbach said.

The neighbors even talked about filing a motion of injunction to block the approval, he said.

“I don’t know how much good it’ll do, but we have to fight it,” he said. “I don’t know what else to do, but all I know is that if this facility opens the property values all around are going to drop.”

Rex Farr, the owner of the property and The Farrm farm, said he had heard several complaints from his neighbors in the past about animals he keeps on his property and dismissed their concerns.

“These people were bitching about my roosters, they’re bitching about this … I don’t care,” he said.

psquire@timesreview.com

Read more in the Dec. 6 News-Review newspaper.