Hummingbird fans fly to sanctuary’s defense

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | A hummingbird at the Baiting Hollow sanctuary in August of 2012.
KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | A hummingbird at the Baiting Hollow sanctuary in August of 2012.

Fans of the Baiting Hollow Hummingbird Sanctuary are flying to the side of the scenic Sound Avenue location, as an online petition surfaced this week asking the town to withdraw a notice of violation issued against the sanctuary, which faces a civil lawsuit from neighbors seeking $3 million and calling for its closure.

The petition, started Saturday by Donna DeSousa of Greenlawn, had more than 630 signatures by Tuesday evening. A Friends of the Baiting Hollow Hummingbird Sanctuary Facebook site, also started Saturday, had more than 420 “likes’ by Tuesday afternoon.

“It would be a terrible shame to close the sanctuary to the public,” Ms. DeSousa wrote on the petition’s web site. “On an island that is increasingly overdeveloped, this sanctuary offers solace to many and a wonderful place to connect with nature and hummingbirds.”

However, some neighbors on Terry Farm Road, the unpaved private road leading to the sanctuary, say visitors frequently block their driveways or knock on their doors asking for directions or to use their bathrooms on days when the sanctuary is open to the public.

Fred Terry, one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed last December in state Supreme Court against sanctuary owners Paul and Rafael Adams, said in an email that he “got a little cranky” after overuse of the property.

Mr. Terry stated that he’s seen nearly 40 cars at a time lined up along the road and has been told by the town attorney’s office that he would be held liable if anyone were injured on his residential property. He also noted that his homeowner’s insurance has been canceled as a result and commented that “a real sanctuary does not encourage hundreds of people with $1,000 cameras and telescopes in a residential neighborhood.”

The hummingbird sanctuary, located north of Sound Avenue and overlooking the Long Island Sound, has operated for at least 15 years.

Mr. Adams is a professor of neuroscience at Stony Brook University and has planted flowers on the property that attract hummingbirds.

He publicizes the sanctuary on a web site and invites the public to visit only during August and only during specified hours. Visitors are required to sign a waiver to visit, but there is no admission fee and Mr. Adams doesn’t accept donations.

The lawsuit, filed by neighboring property owners Frederick and Debra Terry, Kamal and Sabita Bherwani and Shawn Hamilton, states that a bird sanctuary is not permitted in property’s RA-80 zone, which calls for residential lots, and that Mr. Adams widely advertises the site as being open to the public, despite having no site plan approval for that use.

Anthony Tohill, the attorney for the neighbors, did not respond to a phone message seeking comment.

Among the complaints in the lawsuit are that the sanctuary is operating without site plan or municipal approval, without public bathrooms, without liability insurance, without supervision of the visitors and without any municipally approved parking facility.

The lawsuit also states there is no regulation on the number of visitors, the times or dates of visits, the conduct of visitors or “the impact of the visitors on the plaintiffs’ use of the 20-foot-wide private Terry Farm Road or the visitors’ trespassing onto plaintiffs’ respective” property.

The lawsuit also says the sanctuary has posted “numerous unattractive homemade signs announcing warnings and directions, in the process diminishing the enjoyment and value of” their homes.

Mr. Adams provided a reporter with numerous emails sent by the Terrys asking him to put more directional signs up, after a car looking for the sanctuary parked in their driveway.

Mr. Adams says he believes he is allowed to maintain his property as a bird sanctuary and to have invited guests visit there.

Riverhead Town’s code enforcement unit also had issued a notice of violation to Mr. Adams, saying the operation of a hummingbird sanctuary that is open to the public is a prohibited use and that continuing that use would require both a variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals and site plan approval from the Planning Board.

It further stated that if no remedy to the violation was made before Jan. 18, the town could follow through with legal action, though town attorney Bob Kozakiewicz said he does not intend to do so and the town has not issued a Justice Court summons to the hummingbird sanctuary. He said the notice was sent last year to cover the town in the event that the neighbors brought a lawsuit, which they later did.