Steps being taken to move dog shelter to EPCAL

The Riverhead Town Animal Shelter. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)
The Riverhead Town Animal Shelter. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

It looks like the dogs at North Fork Animal Welfare League could be in for a treat.

Three town board members have said they are in favor of a plan that will move the nonprofit from the town’s shelter on Youngs Avenue to the Henry Pfeifer Community Center building in Calverton, and will vote next week on scheduling two public hearings needed to move the plan forward.

Supervisor Sean Walter, and Councilmen Jim Wooten and John Dunleavy support the plan, giving the board a three-member majority. The hearings will be held on June 3 if the OK is given next week.

“I couldn’t be happier with the job NFAWL is doing,” Ms. Walter said. NFAWL took over operation of the shelter in March 2013, ending years of controversy over the town’s handling of the dog shelter.

“They have done such a wonderful job,” Mr. Walter said. “They have turned our dog pound into a magnificent animal shelter. I can’t say enough good things about NFAWL.”

Councilman George Gabrielsen, who along with Councilwoman Jodi Giglio oppose the plan, said he feels the town is giving away a potentially valuable property in the Pfeifer center.

The town acquired the Pfeifer center when it was given the 2,900 acres at Calverton from the Navy in 1998. The building had been a guardhouse when Grumman leased the land from the Navy.

Riverhead spent $427,000 to renovate it for use as a community center in 2004, but the building is infrequently used. It is used for six months in the summer for recreation programs and twice a year for a committee dealing with the cleanup of property at EPCAL where pollution remained from the Navy’s use of the land.

“It was a waste of money because nobody ever used it,” Mr. Wooten said. But he feels that since the building is within the boundaries of the state’s Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers Act, its potential uses are limited, and it’s unlikely anyone would want to buy it.

Mr. Walter said the plan to move the animal shelter to the Pfeifer building will hardly cost the town anything. The nonprofit NFAWL has a $300,000 bequest from the Troxel family of Mattituck to be used for a new animal shelter, and resident Denise Lucas and her group Riverhead Move the Animal Shelter have been raising money privately through numerous fundraisers to pay for a new shelter.

The Troxel money will be used to build a new kennel on the site, and money raised by RMTAS will be used to renovate the Pfeifer building into an animal shelter, Mr. Walter said. The facility also will handle cats, he said. The town could then sell the current animal shelter on Youngs Avenue, he added. Proceeds from that sale, in part, would replenish a park and recreation fund in the town’s budget that had been used to refurbish the Pfeifer building in 2004, when the town spent $427,000.

The work can’t start until the fall, when the recreation program is done, and even then, the town needs to get state permits for the project, Mr. Walter said.

Gillian Wood-Pultz, executive director of NFAWL, said on Friday that while she wasn’t surprised to hear the news, she was making her way to town hall to find out what exactly the town would be voting on. The plan has been for NFAWL to build a new kennel, and for the town to repurpose the Pfeifer center to be used for administrative offices, she said.

Until recently, it appeared there wouldn’t be a Town Board majority in support of using the Pfeifer building for an animal shelter.

While Councilwoman Jodi Giglio opposed the plan from the beginning, Councilman George Gabrielsen recently withdrew his support after town issued five energy proposals from private companies to the Long Island Power Authority, which is calling for peak and alternate energy proposals. The town received several private bids seeking to lease land at EPCAL for the LIPA request.

Some of those companies would be interested in buying the Pfeifer building, Mr. Gabrielsen said, and the councilman wanted to issue a request for proposals for the building. He thought he had three votes in support of that plan.

“We’ve got close to 1,000 kids in lacrosse, football and soccer that need more room…versus 18 dogs in the shelter. Pick your priority,” he said. He feels the town should expand and fix up the current animal shelter on Youngs Avenue.

Mr. Dunleavy had initially supported the idea of using the Pfeifer building for an animal shelter but recently had said he wanted to wait until December, when LIPA choses which energy proposals it will contract with, to make a decision, in order to see if there was any interest from those companies in buying the building.

Mr. Dunleavy attributed his support to the $300,000 that NFAWL has in waiting, saying that the town wouldn’t have to spend a dime — and, NFAWL could be in danger of losing the funds if it doesn’t use the donation.

“From the beginning they thought they were going to be there,” he said. “I don’t want them to lose the money. I’d rather them get it, let them use the Pfeifer Center, and see what happens.”