Kent Animal Shelter redesigns its new shelter plans

Kent Animal Shelter kennel manager Ricky Appling gets some kisses Friday from Yogi, a year-old pit bull mix, in the Calverton shelter's play yard. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)
Kent Animal Shelter kennel manager Ricky Appling gets some kisses Friday from Yogi, a year-old pit bull mix, in the Calverton shelter’s play yard. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

Kent Animal Shelter’s plans for a new facility have been redesigned and will go back before the state’s Central Pine Barrens Joint Planning and Policy Commission, from which Kent needs a waiver to allow construction in the core of the Pine Barrens, where new development is strictly limited. 

The nonprofit animal shelter, which in 2014 adopted out 748 pets and also spayed or neutered more than 4,000, is in need of a new shelter to replace its aging Calverton facility, which was built on River Road in 1968, said Kent’s executive director, Pam Green. Kent’s spay and neuter building is almost as old, having been built in 1974. There are five structures on the site altogether.

“We really need a new structure,” Ms. Green said. She added that the shelter houses about 125 animals.

“The shelter is 45 years old and the buildings are falling apart,” Ms. Green said at a March 2013 Riverhead Zoning Board of Appeals hearing. “It really would be a shame if we couldn’t continue our services.”

The location of the current shelter falls within the boundaries of two very restrictive state environmental protection programs: the Long Island Pine Barrens Protection Act, which aims to protect the aquifer, and the Wild, Scenic, and Recreational Rivers Act, which aims to prevent development near the Peconic River.

Kent is proposing to demolish two of its older buildings near the river and build a new one closer to the road. That building would have an on-site sewage treatment plant to prevent septic waste from contaminating the groundwater, according to Kent’s vice president, Chuck Bowman. Mr. Bowman is also the owner of Land Use Ecological Services, which has donated services to the shelter.

Kent has already received permission from the state to build within the Rivers Act boundaries. It has also received a series of zoning variances from the Riverhead ZBA.

But getting approval from the Pine Barrens Commission is proving to be the most difficult to obtain, since the shelter is located in the core of the Pine Barrens, an area where new construction is prohibited without a waiver.

The commission held a public hearing on Kent’s proposed new shelter in December 2012 but Mr. Bowman said so many changes needed to be made to the plan following that hearing that they decided to withdraw their Pine Barrens application and start again.

“We had to go through a whole redesign of the site plan to meet all the other criteria and it was just easier to withdraw it and start again,” Mr. Bowman said.

Since then, Kent has received approval from the Suffolk County Health Department for the on-site sewage treatment plant, Mr. Bowman said, indicating that they wanted to have that approval in hand before going before the Pine Barrens Commission again.

Mr. Bowman said the shelter’s current facility has septic systems that are in the groundwater and located less than 100 feet from the river.

“When you consider the benefit to the river, this has a huge environmental benefit to the river,” he said of the proposed treatment plant.

As for the Pine Barrens, he said, the site is right on the boundary of the Pine Barrens code area.

“The whole point of the Pine Barrens Act is to protect the aquifer,” Mr. Bowman said. “Currently, all the rain that falls on this property goes into the river, which goes into the bay.”

Ms. Green estimates the cost of the new 10,000-square-foot building will be about $2.5 million. Kent is raising money through fundraising but Ms. Green said they have “a ways to go on that.”

Last Wednesday, the Pine Barrens Commission voted to schedule a public hearing on Kent’s new application at its next meeting at 2 p.m. Feb. 25 at Riverhead Town Hall.

However, Ms. Green said, Kent may seek to postpone the hearing because she won’t be able to attend on that date.

The Pine Barrens Commission comprises supervisors from Riverhead, Brookhaven and Southampton towns, as well as the county executive and the governor, or their respective representatives.

At the hearing on Kent in 2012, both Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter and Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine voiced support for Kent and the work that it does, with Mr. Walter calling it “our de facto municipal shelter.”

But those comments drew criticism from Richard Amper of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, who said Mr. Walter’s comments suggested it may be a conflict of interest for him to vote on Kent’s application.

“Kent providing great public service is entirely irrelevant to this application,” Mr. Amper said at the time, indicating that the commission’s vote should be based entirely on whether Kent meets the criteria for a Pine Barrens exemption.

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